The journey of an introvert into leadership

I don’t long for a stage. Mastering public speaking skills was a dream of mine in my 20s because captivating an audience with words is a form of art that fascinates me.

I got to practice facilitating workshops at Apple. Workshops create a different type of engagement with the audience.

I calculated some 600 hours of training sessions. I could connect with the people and really come alive. That was my favorite part of the job, along with developing others.

Years later I find myself at a beautiful gathering of friends. on the Adriatic coast, in Crikvenica. And along with many other responsibilities, I am offered the stage. I didn’t even realize how wonderful this opportunity was at the time. Pulling our sleeves up and navigating weeks of core team work, my talk was put on the back burner of my mind. I had been scheduled at the end. But I had no idea I will be the last one to finish the scheduled talks.

I’ve always preferred to go first and get it over with. I thrive thinking on my feet, filling in the gaps of less intense preparation. This time I had time to over-prepare and to overthink it all. Every talk I listened to seemed connected to mine, and it made me want to say it all. But as we all know, trying to say everything might cause you to say nothing memorable or of essence.

I had prepared a great (as I see it with a clear mind) keynote which I did not use, but hindsight is 20-20. As I look back now I realize it would have kept the talk structured and clear. Linear as my husband likes to offer constructive feedback.

Alas, because of a sense of speed, crowded content and fumbling in the prior talks, I decided to forgo my structured keynote and just connect with people. It was the third talk of the day and I made a decision to not add more information but to share the relevant parts of my story as I felt moved to do so, parts that tied into all the talks.

I have dumped my thoughts and created a detailed outline on multiple documents. Always different aspects of the story. I even delineated it but I didn’t have any time to demo or hear myself out. I didn’t feel like polishing it to no end. Plus, as I was telling Camilla, I love the thrill of creating something live, while building on the energy and engagement of the audience.

But Chronology always comes to the rescue for me. So I began with how my journey with Apple started.

With struggle.

After quitting a toxic environment job, My contract with another high tech company ended. At that time many companies were going bankrupt left and right. It was middle of the recession in silicon valley in 2009. Thousand of highly qualified people were losing their jobs. Some were better prepared than others to weather the storm. We had savings and made adjustments to our monthly spendings. We had a roof over our head and food to eat. And yet, the search for a job with no result was crushing my spirit.

Jay, a participant was sharing how the mission he is involved is trying to meet the needs of the people. It’s so off when you try to give them a concert or food when what they ask for and need is a job. Jay doesn’t even know that a week prior, another participant and speaker, Alan Cutting, facilitated a revealing discussion about the difference between Aid and Development. Aid is short term and makes us feel good about our generosity. But development takes commitment and creativity and a lot of patience to listen and understand what the people need and not just offer them what you feel like they need.

After applying to 300 jobs and going to 12 different interviews, it didn’t matter that I often made it to the last round of interviews. I had been basically rejected 300 times. Granted, I had the skills for most of these jobs, but my heart was not in it. None of them was my dream job. I did a lot of soul searching and praying and reassessing my skills. It was a dark time in my life, of feeling stuck, like never before.

When I applied at Apple, before I was even offered the job, I felt I had arrived home. This job actually made me giddy with enthusiasm. And I remember being grateful for all the prior rejections.

Spoiler alert: I was promoted to a leadership position and I lead a large group of people in my last 2+ years there. I was a lead creative in charge of trainers and tech support apple store employees in the heart of Silicon Valley in California.

When I was proposed this position, I declined initially. Because I don’t like to tell people what to do. My manager didn’t budge. He was actually more certain about the decision.

So, I did not see myself as a leader. But as an introvert I could see others clearly. And with the help of a tool I was given, I was able to build my colleagues up. Through feedback.

At ROM, The opening talk that Bojan (our director) gave, was about the woman at the well. The no-name samaritan woman that Jesus acknowledged and changed her life. A line of a poem in his talk says that “to be seen is to be loved”. The same goes for feedback. It is in essence a love language. You see people.

Towards the end of the conference, Laura shared about building effective teams and at the end pointed out this brilliant verses at the end if the book of 1 Thessalonians: “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”

It is basically a foundation for feedback in community.

How should feedback be?

  • Honest! Always honest.
  • Offered daily – practice!
  • Concise and specific
  • Majority positive

There are 4 type of feedback:

  • Specific positive – will detail below
  • General positive (you rock, you are amazing, you did a great job!) 
  • Specific negative (aka constructive, used wisely but just as important in growth)
  • General negative (nobody wants to hear just: “you were awful” with no explanation)

An important aspect I learned was to ask for permission: “May I give you some feedback?” We don’t dump our unfiltered thoughts on others. Find the right time – not with an audience at meal time, or on their way somewhere or before coffee. Do it with he right intentions: 

– not to blow off steam
– not to get even
– not in anger
– but with the purpose to help other grow
– to maintain a healthy work environment 

Why do we give or ask for feedback?

  • it feels good to be seen, appreciated 
  • We need to know what we do well so we can build on that
  • Feedback inspires us to grow and be/do better

Good feedback is:

  • Intentional: specific 
  • Balanced: positive and constructive
  • Thoughtful and purposeful
  • Learned skill
  • A foundation for development

My favorite part about feedback in the culture I embraced it was that there was no directional boundary. I’m not one for flattery, to give nor to receive, but I took every opportunity to give feedback to my leaders too. Everybody needs connection. Everybody thrives when seen and appreciated or is helped to improve.

I have taken to heart everything I learned, Including feedback; I brought it home and adapted and implemented every good thing in our daily lives. I remember vividly asking my husband to listen and receive my feedback first, think on it and to try to not justify a situation right away. To listen with the intent of understanding because speaking up is just as hard as receiving constructive feedback. This simple rule helped us both to be more brave and purposeful in communicating constructive thoughts.

As I pursue growth in my role as a mom, I learned about this idea in parenting, to connect before I correct. The same principle applies in long term relationships built through feedback. There are a few situations where the sandwich type of feedback applies (like a kindergarten teacher who talks to parents only on occasions, she acknowledges in the same conversation what they do well and what they could pay attention to more or do better).

Otherwise, taking every opportunity to build people up will earn you the right and natural authority to share constructive feedback. (Without sandwich or sugarcoating) If we remember to give positive feedback only when constructive feedback is necessary, it means we’ve missed out on many opportunities. Like me at this conference.

Jackie thrived in her independence during these weeks surrounded by amazing people who conversed with her, inspired her, had fun with her. I admit I love to see her spread her wings. But when I had to correct her, it fell on deaf or stubborn ears. The effort was considerably more.

Because at times I even felt our disconnection, the correction backfired. Realizing this, as I was more intentional about seeing her, I could feel her eyes soften, her body language change. We are a work in progress. And there is plenty to still learn and practice. We as adults change with time. The change in our kids is even more dramatic, as they grow exponentially in knowledge, stature and understanding. This part ties beautifully in Camilla’s talk about emotional agility which we get to practice more intentionally as our minds are now rested and we ourselves feel more connected to each other and the world.