Category Archives: Leadership

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Victoria Lioznyansky Headshot

Episode 033: Victoria Lioznyansky–Introverts and Starting a Business

Category:introversion,Introverted Leadership,introverts,Leadership,Lessons Learned,Podcast

Episode 033 Show Notes: Victoria Lioznyansky

Introduction

Victoria Lioznyansky and Ben Woelk discuss starting a small business as an introvert, discussing her experiences with Nutty Scientists of Houston and the Brilliant Speakers Academy.

Victoria Lioznyansky Headshot

Key concepts

  • Building a business takes passion, skill, and discipline
  • Introverts can be good at consultative sales
  • STEAM or STEM-A is a great way to marry science and the arts.

Quotable

I had this full blown transformation from being somebody very much afraid and not wanting to be in front of a microphone ever to somebody who truly enjoys being in front of an audience. All of this while still being an introvert and not being the center of attention in any way or form.

Introverts have this one big strength–to focus and reflect, to look inside ourselves and really think things through.

On building a business–look inside yourself and decide if there is something that you are so passionate about, that you believe in so much, that you will be willing to take a risk for because building the business is always a risk

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Victoria Lioznyansky. Victoria teaches introverted entrepreneurs and business professionals how to overcome their fear of public speaking and become confident, compelling, captivating speakers. After moving to the U. S. Two decades ago with limited English, Victoria overcame her crippling fear of public speaking to build several businesses, teach in a variety of industries, and speak in front of small and large audiences. She appeared on Fox News and has been featured in numerous publications including CBS, Houston and BizWest media, talking on her experiences going from scared to sought after speaker. Victoria created the Brilliant Speakers Academy, an online public speaking coaching program for introverts. She also owns Nutty Scientists of Houston, a passion project about inspiring kids to fall in love with science. Victoria holds a Master of Science in Computer Science and is currently completing a Master of Arts degree in Communications and Media Technologies. She lives in Houston with her husband and two sons. You can contact Victoria at victoria@byvictorial.com.

Ben: Can you tell us about your business and your background? You have a couple of businesses. Why don’t you talk about those and talk to us about what your workplace is like.

Victoria: Yes, I am in this unique position where I do have two businesses that are as different as you can imagine. One of them is Nutty Scientists of Houston, which is a franchise that I’ve owned for the last six or seven years. And this business is really all about inspiring kids to fall in love with science. I’m not as much hands on in it as I was in the beginning, but it’s still business that takes pretty much probably half of my time. And I have a physical space, so it is a local brick and mortar business where we go to schools all over Houston to do enrichment programs. And also we have all kinds of programs in our space right here in Houston. So that’s one of my businesses. And my second business is public speaking coach and I coach students. I created the Brilliant Speakers Academy program and I work with my audience from all over the world, teaching them how to become a better public speaker, specifically focusing on introverts and how we as introverts can overcome our fear of public speaking.

Ben: That’s fascinating. It almost feels more of a calling type thing. I know that my passion about Hope for the Introvert and speaking and mentoring introverted leaders is really born out of a desire to make a difference for them. What has driven you to pursue this introverted public speaking coaching path?

Victoria: You know, Ben, this is such a good question and you’re so right. It is a passion-driven business. I obviously have been an introvert all of my life. I am as introverted as you can imagine and I’ve been terrified–absolutely terrified of public speaking growing up. And I had a lot of traumatic experiences and I was able to overcome my fear of public speaking. I was able to go in front of audiences of any size and not just be this confident, competent speaker, but actually enjoy it and transform, impact, and bring joy, educate, inspire my audiences. So I had this full blown transformation from being somebody very much afraid and not wanting to be in front of a microphone ever to somebody who truly enjoys being in front of an audience. All of this while still being an introvert and not being the center of attention in any way or form.

Victoria: And a lot of people come up to me after I do train,–I speak somewhere, they come up to me and they say, “Oh, you are so wonderful. You are this natural speaker.” And that made me think, if somebody like myself who was really bad at this, who was really scared, really didn’t want to do it, is able to go through this full transformation and have people believe that I’m a natural at this, then everybody else can do it too. And so my Brilliant Speakers Academy program was born out of this desire to share my experience, my systems, my framework, and teach everybody else how to go from being really, really, really scared and uncomfortable through actually loving being in front of an audience and being good at it.

Ben:Yeah, it’s a very, very cool thing. And I know our next episode we’ll spend more time talking about what you actually do as a public speaking coach, I know my own speaking path, how nervous and now absolutely terrible I think I probably was when I initially started speaking, but it’s become so habitual now or much more natural where I have become used to being in front of larger groups. I’ve had conversations with a friend and she talks about how you see people at one point in time and you assume that they always have been like that. I look back at that in terms of leadership. I look back at that in terms of public speaking ability or wherever I am on that path at this point in time. But I know that people who heard me 10 years ago probably would be surprised that that’s me speaking today.

Ben: I know there were many opportunities that I turned down, found someone else to speak because I didn’t want to be in front of a large group. But it’s kind of amazing how that has moved forward over the years. Since we’re going to spend a good chunk of our next episode talking about that aspect of your business, and it sounds like it’s going to be all ingrained with your whole life travel–life journey, I guess would be a better term for it. What’s the passion for the science part of things because that is very different? It still sounds like a very exciting thing to be doing to be going into different schools. What led you into that? I feel like we’re going down two totally different paths, but I know they’re going to intertwine again. So what led you into that?

Victoria: I am a mom. I have two kids right now who are 13 and nine. And when I started my business, my kids were very, very little. I’ve been an entrepreneur pretty much most of my adult life. I’m actually building my fourth business right now. So I’ve had several businesses and my background is in IT. It’s actually not science, it’s Informational Technologies. And my first business was developing websites and building software. But as my career progressed, I found myself working in the educational environment. I was actually managing all of the software development for Harris County Department of Education. And so I found myself as a mom and at the same time working in the education field and I was looking to start a new business. I was looking to invest my time and energy into something that would make me not just happy and fulfilled, but also challenged.

Victoria: And at the same time I wanted something that will be interesting for my kids as well. And so, as all of those things came together, I had an idea to start–build the franchise. It is a franchise that I purchased and I built it from scratch. And right now, the Nutty Scientists of Houston franchise is the number one franchise in the United States among all of the Nutty Scientists franchises. So I built it from zero to be number one. And it definitely was, and still is a passion project as everybody knows. Even if you’re not in education, even if you don’t know anything about science, everybody understands, everybody knows how important sciences for the kids, because a lot of kids go through school not truly understanding science and being interested in it because it’s so theoretical. A lot of times in a lot of schools where schools don’t have time to time or money to invest in the hands on and really inspiring kids it’s all about tests as everybody knows.

Victoria: And a lot of kids just don’t like it. Because nobody ever made them interested in it. And it’s very, very important I think for the next generation to truly believe that science is exciting. And this is what my business is all about. It’s inspiring kids to fall in love with science. It’s not making them all scientists, of course not. But it’s showing them that science is not just about tests and the boring information that they may be getting from school and that’s why they don’t like it. Science could be really exciting and could be really a way to change the world and their future. And so in our little way by doing enrichment classes, by doing camps, by doing science birthday parties, I feel like we are contributing to that cause.

Ben: Yeah, that’s really awesome. I’m at the Rochester Institute of Technology and there’s been such a focus on–there’s always been a focus on STEM disciplines here. But there seems to be–obviously there’s a much larger focus in society in general in the U. S. Especially around the STEM disciplines. One thing that’s interesting that RIT is doing. Our current president is–I don’t know if he’s groundbreaking here, but he’s leading the path here–is making sure there’s also an Arts component with that as well, so that it’s not just the–it may be the same side of the brain actually, but it’s not just around the science things. But it’s also the number of students we have who come in who have passions in acting, in the art,s and music and making sure that they have outlets for that and opportunities as well. So I am interested, and my apologies because I didn’t ask you this ahead of time at all, What are your thoughts around the STEM disciplines, science and still involving the arts?

Victoria: It’s so funny that you ask that because just this summer we had a couple of camps that instead of STEM camps we called STEAM camps–A for art. And we literally combined arts and science. We had a bicycle with–what I forgot to mention is that my business primarily deals with ages four through 12. So we work with younger kids and our camps. We actually partnered with an arts company and we had the camp where with it some science, and every day kids were doing art. And then we had another camp where we partnered with a drama company where we did science and combined it with performance. So that camp was really groundbreaking in a way that nobody in the community has ever done that. Where for half the camp kids we’re doing science experiments and learning about science.

Victoria: And then for the second half of the camp they were acting out, writing the script, creating all the sets, and incorporating science and science experiments that they learned earlier from us into their performance. And they combined both in the performance for the parents. So that camp was a huge hit and kids absolutely loved it ,because they were able to not just purely focus on science, and it’s all fun but also integrated with something else that’s very exciting and makes it a lot more applicable and a lot more fun for them. So I thought incorporating science into drama and adding an art component to that as well, is really an interesting way to go for the kids who are interested in both science and art.

Ben: Yeah, that’s amazing. I’m also looking at another thing that’s been sweeping–I wouldn’t say society, but a lot of the professions over the last couple of years, has to do with the use of Story to communicate information. And this sounds like such a clear example of how–you can really influence things both ways with it, but how to communicate science through story in a sense. And even science being part of the story that you’re presenting.

Victoria: Right, right. And that’s actually how we run our enrichment classes. The class may have a theme of, I don’t know, sharks. The whole class was about sharks and we don’t just go like, “Well, sharks do this; sharks do that.” Right? We make it–we actually weave a story into this, and this is how sharks are born and this is what happens. And their parents do this and little sharks get abandoned and lalala! I mean there is a whole bunch of information that you can just present as information, or you can create stories out of it and then incorporate science experiments. And then by the end of the class, kids get a really full picture of that one topic that we’re trying to cover.

Ben: Yeah, that’s a very, very cool thing. So the thing that I think that really makes it funny is the Houston Astros have the song about Baby Shark, Right?

Victoria: I have to let you in a secret. I am not a baseball fan, or a sports fan for that matter.

Ben: No, no. I just remember seeing something about it. And the Baby Shark thing rings true because we have a grandson who absolutely loves all of the Baby Shark thing. So that’s why I’m laughing. It’s just funny that it would– it’s Houston. It’s just a funny thing, but I think it just shows how much some of this just kind of permeates through culture at different levels. So you’ve been a serial entrepreneur, I guess is one way to look at it. And you’re not the first guest that I’ve had who’s built a string of businesses and who’s an introvert. How did being an introvert affect how you’ve been an entrepreneur?

Victoria: I think as an introvert or as introverts, we have this one big strength, and that strength is the ability to focus and reflect, ability to look inside ourselves and really think things through. I really think that introverts do make some of the best entrepreneurs because as we love to focus, as we love to think, as we love to reflect, we are able to truly shape our business in the best way possible. And also mentally prepare for unexpected, you know, for any struggles we may have, for any challenges we may have. I think as introverts, it’s a strength and most of the introverts or pretty much all of the introverts have it. And I think the misconception is that extroverts make better business people because they tend to like to be the center of attention, right? That they like to be in the spotlight. I like to go out there and interact, but the reality is as much as we don’t like to go out there, when we do, we truly nail it. And I think it’s also our ability to have really meaningful conversations whenever we meet with somebody.

Introverts have this one big strength--to focus and reflect, to look inside ourselves and really think things through. @victorialtweets Click To Tweet

Victoria: Even when you are doing a sales presentation, as an entrepreneur, you are constantly selling, right? Even when you’re doing a sales presentation, as an introvert, you really focus on the needs and on the benefits to your client. You take the focus off of you and put it on your client and they’re going to talk a lot more about it. When we speak about public speaking, speaking in public, I think as introverts, this is really our strength is to be able to truly have a meaningful conversation with another person and make it about the other person. And that makes sales a lot easier for introverts. And this could be not something that other people talk about, but actually a consultancy.

Ben: Yeah, I think in the aspect of consultative sales? Absolutely. I think many of us think about sales as just the numbers game, the cold calling thing of it, which is a piece of it, which I’m not sure anyone really enjoys that piece, but the consultative part and the whole introvert strength you’re talking about about this ability to engage and listen to the other person and not necessarily be racing ahead thinking, “What am I going to say next?” Or you know, “What am I going to say?” And that ability to listen is really important. It’s a bit challenging when we’re doing this podcast because I am thinking, “What’s the next thing that I’m going to talk about” But I think that introvert strength of being able to listen and reflect back is really key in engaging and really building customers and clients and relationships in general.

Victoria: Absolutely. And of course we’re not talking about–today’s conversation is not about sales at all, but I just have to mention that if you, as as you said, if you are an introvert, really use that strength and make every sales call or sales meeting into a consultative sales call, you’re going to have so much success. And I speak from my own experience, because unfortunately I still do some sales calls, some cold calling, which as you said, nobody likes, I’m not looking forward to it and I outsource as much as I can, but I’ve still done a good share of them. And I built my business because I was able to take every single cold call and make it about them, make it about benefiting the client that I’m calling versus, “Let me sell you on my stuff.” And I think it’s very, very important. And I think as introverts we are equipped with dealing with this, and we just should use it more and train ourselves to use this strength more. Listen and reflect back and focus on the other person.

Ben: Yeah, I think that’s really great. I’ve worked as a consultant and it’s always been about providing solutions, but it’s not providing solutions that I’m coming in with packaged solutions. It’s understanding and really doing that analysis of what does the client or what does the customer need and building a solution that meets that. And I do think that the analytical abilities I think can transcend whether it’s introvert or extrovert, but I do think it’s that ability to stay engaged in the conversation and to build a relationship and build the trust that is really, really important in this.

Victoria: Yes. Absolutely.

Ben: Do you have some recommendations for introverts who would want to become–we’ll break this into this two-part bifurcation here–do you have recommendations for introverts who are interested in building businesses? And I don’t mean in the numbers game, but more, I guess you feel like they want to do something on their own. They don’t want to necessarily just have a job with a company or something. They’ve got a passion for something. They have a belief in something. What recommendations would you have for an individual who wants to explore their own path and maybe that path is being an entrepreneur?

Victoria: I definitely thought about it a lot in the last couple of decades. Because of being a serial entrepreneur and also being in the corporate world from time to time, and as somebody who really doesn’t like to be in the corporate world and working for somebody. As somebody who was clearly born to be an entrepreneur, I had to give it a lot of thought of not only do I want to start my own business because the answer was always yes, but also what do I want to do? And so as advice to anybody who feels restless in their workspace, who feels that they’re wasting their life. Maybe because I know I had those thoughts when I was in the corporate, that I’m wasting my life, that I am asleep and I need to wake up and do something that I’m passionate about. I think my biggest advice is to look inside yourself and decide if there is something that you are so passionate about, that you believe in so much, that you will be willing to take a risk for because building the business is always a risk and I’m not saying that, “Oh, I’m so passionate about this or that I’m going to quit my job tomorrow because Victoria said you need to be a risk taker.”

Look inside yourself and decide if there is something that you are so passionate about, that you believe in so much, that you will be willing to take a risk for because building the business is always a risk. @victorialtweets Click To Tweet

Victoria: No, you can be a careful risk-taker. You can stay in your job for awhile until you build your business to the extent where you can quit your job. Because that’s exactly what I did. I had already purchased the Nutty Scientists franchise, but was still working full time. I knew that I can’t leave my job and start the business from scratch, because obviously when you’re starting a brand new business, you’re not making any money for the first little while. I wanted to jump into the business and start making money from day one and the only way to do that was to build a foundation for that business while still working. So for anybody who feels a little restless and they feel like, “Okay, I want to start the business,” what I recommend is to start a business. Do not do anything crazy. Stay at your job, start a business. The little steps become really organized about your time.

Victoria: What I did when I had already purchased Nike scientist, but I still was at my job: Every lunch hour I would go to my car. I would sit in my car and would be making sales calls, cold calling, sales calls for my business, trying to set up things three, four, five months down the road, so that I could eventually quit my job. And so when I did leave my job, and I did that, I did that during lunch hour, every single lunch hour for real, for months I was doing that. Evenings, weekends, you have to find something that you are truly passionate about or it’s not going to work. It’s not going to hold you. It has to be something you can’t live without. But once you do all of this work and you feel that you are ready, then you can quit your job. So when I quit my job, I was literally making money from day one in my business because I prepared all of the foundation. I did all the sales that I needed. I went into my business full time and then I never looked back.

Victoria: I think there are two things here: you need to find something that you really passionate about, but you also want to find something that you’re really good at. And a lot of times what people do is they take their work skills and use them for their new business. So it’s kind of like an intersection of what you’re good at or maybe not doing good but great at. Or it’s maybe something that you don’t even realize you’re so good at. But everybody tells you, “My goodness you’re so great that this, “and you’re like, “Isn’t everybody great at this?” People would come to me with public speaking and saying, “You’re a natural.” And that’s when I got that idea that, “Wow, I’m not the natural,” but to people I do look natural now, which means I can teach this because I know how I did this. I can teach it. So you look inside yourself and again as an introvert we’ll love to reflect, we’ll love the inside of our head. So going inside your head, turn everything off and look and see what are you great at, what you think you are good at, but everybody else thinks you’re amazing. And what you’re passionate about.

Ben: Yeah, that’s it. That’s the other thing. That’s what I’m really hearing from you. People are passionate about things. People may be good at things, but they have to build the foundation. And there’s a lot of discipline involved in terms of finding that time outside of your normal work time to be able to build these things or to do these side hustles, I guess is the more popular term now, initially. And maybe those grow into something.

Victoria: Right, right. And if you do it for a little while and after a few months you realize, you know what? Nah, I really love the security of my job. Well it’s okay then you just stay at your job, but most likely, you will realize that I–you’re going to feel it. It’s going to be totally like an intuition, that feeling that I am on the right path. I am doing what I was meant to be doing and then after taking and after building the foundation, after doing everything that you need to do, after preparing both financially and logistically, you will be able to step into the life of an entrepreneur and not everybody wants it. Not everybody can do it. But until you try, you won’t know.

Ben: It sounds like wise counsel on how to do things.

Ben: Thanks Victoria. This has been a really fun conversation and I love your passion and also the ability to couple that discipline with that passion. I think that’s a really key part of this. So I’m really looking forward to our next segment where we’re going to talk about public speaking and introverts, which many people just think that makes absolutely no sense. But let’s see how that goes. It’ll be a fun segment.

 

Extras

Brilliant Speakers Academy screenshot

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Eeshita Grover headshot

Episode 032: Eeshita Grover–Leveraging Introvert Strengths

Category:introversion,Introverted Leadership,introverts,Leadership,Lessons Learned,Podcast

Episode 032 Show Notes: Eeshita Grover

Introduction

Eeshita Grover and Ben Woelk discuss leveraging your introvert strengths in the workplace as a manager and to advance in your career.

Eeshita Grover headshot

Key concepts

  • Introverts have a heightened sense of empathy
  • Introverts are analytical and process information internally, and often longer
  • Introverts can appear to be detached
  • Introverts are often self aware
  • Introverts are independent
  • Self knowledge and independence help you grow in your careers
  • Managing up can be challenging for an introvert

Quotable

Introverts have a heightened sense of empathy that takes us a step further in building those relationships that we are typically shy of.

Because introverts are more analytical and absorb information on an ongoing basis, that’s the reason why we don’t express while in the moment. Expression comes to us–it might come 48 hours late–but it does come to us.

Introvert are inherently blessed with being very self aware. They know what their own blind spots are. They know exactly what their pitfalls are. In that regard, I think introverts are very realistic.

Introverts enjoy a sense of independence. They have the ability to enjoy their own company. They really thrive on ‘Okay, right now I need to be myself, but in the morning when I’m at work, I am going to be with my team.’

The more conscious you are of yourself and the more independence you develop in your approach, the better you’re going to emerge as a leader.

The most challenging aspect of of being an introvert and management is managing up.

Educate your management, educate the people who are your peers about what you’re doing. That goes a long way in communicating value for introverts.

In teaching you just never know when you’re going to make an impact on someone’s life. When you’re able to make that impact or touch someone’s life in a positive way, you’ve won the battle of life.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Hi Eeshita. It’s great to have you back on the program. I’m looking forward to continuing our discussion today. We had been talking about the challenge it is to really step out of our comfort zone for a lot of us in a lot of ways, and especially when we’re going into—networking’s not exactly the right word for it–but rather than a presenting environment, which I agree with you at this point in my life, I have no problem standing up in front of people and talking. But the difference in terms of actually going into an environment where you’re networking, it’s a little bit different challenge.

Ben: Now you’re married and have a son, correct?

Eeshita: That’s correct.

Ben: I’m married and have two kids. Is the rest of your family introverts? Extroverts? For me I was surrounded by extroverts. I was the only introvert. My wife, my son, my daughter–all extroverts.

Eeshita: We had three of us in the family and I think it’s safe to say I’m in the middle. My husband is even more an introvert as compared to me. And my son is actually quite an extrovert. So I am right in the middle and I tend to adjust to whatever needs there might be in the moment. So yes, it’s quite interesting, because when my son was younger, I remember I’d get home after work and he’d want to play and he’d want to–actually middle school was a time when they still want to talk and have a conversation with me. And I’d be so tired. And it’s funny because it’s not physical labor. It’s not like I’m lifting big huge rocks all day or something like that. It’s just that mentally, you’re exhausted and you just need to recuperate, and he would be, “Oh Mom. This happened and that happened and I met so and so.” And I’m like, “Okay. Can you please just give me 20 minutes? I need to just chill and then we can resume this conversation.” But there were so many times when that would happen.

Ben: Yeah. There’s very much for me like having to have that little bit of space so I can transition into whatever the other environments are like. So I definitely get that part of it too. But it’s funny.

Eeshita: Yeah. It’s actually interesting because I’m sure you know this. As introverts we have a higher sense of empathy. We have a higher sense of understanding the other person’s perspective, and that’s what would happen with me. And this happens with my friends even today. I understand and I anticipate that this is what they’re looking for from me. And because I understand and I anticipate, there are times when I will comply. I will do what I’m expected to do. I’m not trying to make it sound like I’m doing anyone any favors. But you do want to–you know, there’s that sense of, “Hey, I can do this for you,” kind of thing. I think introverts do have that sense that they have a heightened sense of empathy in comparison. And I think that takes us a step further in terms of building those relationships that we are typically shy of. My friends who I’ve known for 15-20 years, until today they say this about me, “You can come across so cold and unattached,. But once people start to talk to you, there is that other side of you.”

Introverts have a heightened sense of empathy that takes us a step further inbuilding those relationships that we are typically shy of. Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah, I think so. It sounds like there’s a whole lot going on inside, which has been my experience as well. But on the outside you can’t necessarily tell–at least for me–whether I was thinking at all. That’s definitely been a challenge over the years. You mentioned the empathy thing. One of the things I’ve found is a challenge, and this gets back to a little bit about what your friends describe as you being detached while your mind may be spinning like crazy, thinking about all sorts of different things. One of the things I find I have impatience with is in terms of being so used to processing things internally and sitting with someone who’s processing things externally. I find that to be a challenge. I don’t know how that is for you.

Eeshita:  In my presentation from Lavacon, I’d used the quote, “Quiet people have the loudest minds,” and I personally think that that’s very true because I pretty much go all day, and now given my job, of course I’m talking quite a bit and I’m speaking quite a bit. But there have been times when I’ve been sitting in day-long meetings or I go out for dinner with my friends, and there’s a group of five or six of us, and I’m the quietest person in the group and everyone’s chatting away, and two days later I’ll call up one of my friends and say, “Hey, you made a comment about X, Y, Z, and this is really what I think about it.” And oftentimes my friends are like, “What? That conversation happened like five days ago, why are you still thinking about it?”

Eeshita: So it’s true, we are usually absorbing a lot of what’s going on around us, whether it’s conversations, whether it’s mannerisms, whether it’s the color of someone’s shirt. I mean, there are things that will stay in my head sometimes for good reason. And sometimes they’re just there. And I think it’s a result of–yes, I observe. Yes, I am mentally very very present as compared to anyone who might seem they are because they’re talking or they’re engaged in a conversation. But really, I think there are things that I will retain in my mind, even facts about situations. And in all honesty, they’ve served me well because I can go back I don’t always have to rely on my notes. It’s funny because I remember from memory that this happened. This was the reason why it happened. And that’s why I think because we are more analytic, because we absorb a lot of information on an ongoing basis, that’s the reason why we don’t express while in the moment and expression comes to us–it might come 48 hours late, but it does come to us. So yeah, that’s another aspect to being an introvert is that you’re processing information all the time. Somethings going on in that head and you just have to, like I said, give me that 20 minutes to just be okay with I’m ready to take on more. That’s how I would put it.

Because introverts are more analytical and absorb information on an ongoing basis, that's the reason why we don't express while in the moment. Expression comes to us--it might come 48 hours late--but it does come to us. Click To Tweet

Ben: It’s definitely a challenge. And it’s interesting. I like to think that I have a better answer when I’ve thought about things for that long, but I’m not sure that that’s necessarily the case. Though I would like to think that.

Ben: We’ve had several members of that Introverted Leadership Slack community who are moving into management type positions, and they’re introverts and some of them are not feeling very comfortable with that change. What recommendations would you have for them as an introvert who’s a manager of really quite a few people in the workplace?

Eeshita: If I was to hone in on a couple of skills that an introvert has, is inherently blessed with, I think they’re very self aware. So they know what their own blind spots are. They know exactly what their pitfalls are. In that regard, I think they’re very realistic. That’s number one. Really being realistic helps you connect much better with people because there’s no question of introverts will really build themselves up. They will rarely try to sound like, “Oh, I’m everything and I have the answer to everything.” Even though, like I said, they are keen observers. They know a lot more than what shows on the surface. So from that perspective, I think introverts are able to connect better with people because of them being so self aware, because they know who they are. That’s number one.

Introvert are inherently blessed with being very self aware. They know what their own blind spots are. They know exactly what their pitfalls are. In that regard, I think introverts are very realistic. Click To Tweet

Eeshita: I think the other aspect to this is the sense of independence introverts enjoy. They have that ability to enjoy their own company. So they really thrive on that option that, “Okay, right now I need to be myself, but in the morning when I’m at work, I am going to be with my team.”So let me use this quiet time to prepare for the time that I have to be with my team.” I think that that has helped me a lot. I am an early riser so I end up waking up early. The 30-40 minutes that I get in the morning before my day starts are the most valuable for me, because that is where I collect my thoughts. I know what I’m willing to do, or at least to have a blueprint of what I need to pursue that day. There could be a few action items from the previous day that still need to be finished. So there’s those two things that I think really help leaders–really helping management, because the more conscious you are of yourself and the more independence you develop in your approach, the better you’re going to emerge as a leader.

Introverts enjoy a sense of independence. They have the ability to enjoy their own company. They really thrive on 'Okay, right now I need to be myself, but in the morning when I'm at work, I am going to be with my team.' Click To Tweet

The more conscious you are of yourself and the more independence you develop in your approach, the better you're going to emerge as a leader. Click To Tweet

Ben: That makes a lot of sense. What do you find most challenging being an introvert and being a manager of the group?

Eeshita: I think the most challenging aspect of of being an introvert and management is managing up. So you must be very aware of that. Managing up is–you really have to go and put yourself out there, and put your team out there. Talk about, but basically advertise yourself. You know you have to. You really need that marketer’s hat on your head where you’re like, “I’m doing this, I’m involved with that. They’re going to save you so many millions of dollars.” You know, all of those you have, and you have to be up on the buzzwords. So managing up is a challenge. I’m still learning.

The most challenging aspect of of being an introvert and management is managing up. Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah. I find that a challenge also. And it’s not something–it takes time to learn how to do that. Obviously with individuals especially. Do you find that you’re more willing to advocate for your team than for yourself?

Eeshita: 100%. I have no problem going to battle for my team. I have no problem going in and voicing my support or even being supportive for them under any circumstance. But you ask me to do the same thing for myself and I’ll go hide in a corner.

Ben: Yeah. I’m glad I’m not alone in that. Not that it helps in a lot of situations. But like you said, you are now a director of marketing. So you are the managing to get promoted up the ladder despite being an introvert. How do you communicate your successes and things to your management then? How do you help them understand who you are and what you would like to do and why they should consider you for a promotion for instance?

Eeshita: The technique that has worked for me is building one-on-one relationships. Learning–first of all of course–know who the key stakeholders are. That’s important. And as introverts we tend to find that out in our own way. Figuring out who the stakeholders are, figuring out who the decision makers are and obviously your immediate managers is going to be instrumental in terms of your growth. And going back to the point I made earlier is that, building those one-on-one relationships have helped me quite a bit. I’m thinking about this a little bit more. I think having a one-on-one conversation, absolutely no problem.

Eeshita: And that is why I bring up one-on-one relationships is because step out for lunch, meet for a 30 minute chat. Educate your management, educate the people who are your peers in terms of what you’re doing. And I think that goes a long way. You don’t always have to be in a 50-person setting to tell your management chain about what you’re doing. You can achieve those results in one-on-one chats as well, or sending out some sort of communication to your manager. If you haven’t chatted with them for a while, send out an email and say, “Hey, haven’t had a chance to sit down with you. But I wanted to give you a quick update.” Whether you do it on a weekly basis, whether you do it on a monthly basis. As you grow in the management chain, you’re going to be reporting to people who have bigger and bigger portfolios or far more responsibilities then you have, of course. And you have to figure out how to make an impact or how to communicate with them or how to keep that communication channel open with them. So that they are hearing from you and you’re hearing from them.

Educate your management, educate the people who are your peers about what you're doing. That goes a long way in communicating value for introverts. Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah. So what thing I’m hearing with that, and I think it’s a challenge for many introverts especially, is that you do have to communicate your value. You do have to tell people what you’re working on. And you cannot rely on them to just know. I mean, even if you’re stuck on something and you’re going to need management help, you absolutely have to communicate it.

Eeshita: Absolutely. I mean there are times when there’s a budget situation or there’s a project-related situation and even though 90-95% of the time you are managing things yourself, but also at the same time, there are going to be situations bigger than you that you are going to need some handholding. You’re going to need someone to help you navigate through the waters when it comes to those situations. You want to already have that camaraderie with your management or with your peers that they can help you and you can rely on them to help.

Ben: Awesome. Any other recommendations for introverts in the workplace?

Eeshita: One of the things that I did mention before is that build a group of people you trust, those two or three relationships where you can rely on them no matter what the situation. It’ll be hard to start out with, but you will know who you can trust and who you can rely on. And I really do think that having that small–even though it’s a small support system, I think it takes you a long way. You need that as introverts, a little bit of boost from people, that goes a long way.

Ben: Absolutely. I totally agree with you there. I know in my workplace it’s a small group of people and we don’t get together as a group. But individually, at least once a month, and just having that time for conversation, especially since they’re not necessarily in the same workplace–maybe they are–but they’re certainly not doing the same job. It provides an opportunity for an outside perspective on things, and in some ways a sanity check. But also I think it’s just important to be able to have people to share your burdens with.

Eeshita: Absolutely, absolutely!

Ben: So one last question, what is one thing about you that people would be surprised to learn?

Eeshita: Well let’s see. The one thing about me is that I love is my true passion lies in teaching and that is one thing and I would go back to teaching in a heartbeat. That’s how I look at it. And I think a lot of people who have seen my career in high tech, they find it surprising, but really that’s my true love.

Ben: And honestly, I’m in a very high tech workplace. I am in Higher Ed, so it makes a little bit easier. But I thoroughly enjoy the teaching piece of it and working with students and trying, in some ways, yeah, it sounds trite, but trying to build our future in a sense and being there and helping students understand what they need to do to succeed as well.

Eeshita: Yes. And I think what impresses me so much about teaching is the fact that you just never know when you’re actually going to make an impact on someone’s life. And you’re able to make that impact or touch someone’s life in a positive way, I think. You’ve won it. You’ve won the battle of life.

In teaching you just never know when you're going to make an impact on someone's life. When you're able to make that impact or touch someone's life in a positive way, you've won the battle of life. Click To Tweet

Ben: Awesome. Thank you Eeshita for your time. It’s been a great conversation. I’m glad we finally got to have it. We’ve been talking about that for a really long time.

Eeshita: I truly appreciate the opportunity, Ben. It’s been a pleasure. And I have enjoyed doing this podcast with you.

 

Extras

Why Introverts Make Successful Leaders, Lavacon 2017

 


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Andrea Childress headshot

Episode 030: Andrea Childress–Women in IT and Information Security Leadership

Category:EDUCAUSE,Higher Education,Information Security,introversion,Introverted Leadership,Leadchange,Leadership,Podcast

Episode 030 Show Notes: Andrea Childress

Introduction

Andrea Childress and Ben Woelk discuss women in IT and Information Security leadership in Higher Education, her Women in Security panel presentation at the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference, and strategies for overcoming the leadership gender gap. Note: Andrea is now UNK Chief Information Officer and University of Nebraska Assistant Vice President for Information Technology Services .

Andrea Childress headshot

Key concepts

  • The percentage of women in IT is around 14%; even lower in leadership roles
  • Mentoring is a key success factor
  • Men and women may have unconscious biases around the appropriate roles of women in the workplace
  • Diverse teams achieve superior results
  • There are parallels between the importance of women and introverts in understanding and identifying their strengths
  • Sharing leadership stories and being role models are key to helping address gender diversity
  • Leaders (male and female) can advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion

Quotable

In design thinking, outcomes are going to be very much influenced by the people who are doing the thinking around the design and the priorities are going to reflect the people who are in the room. @benwoelk

When hiring someone, it’s natural for you to want to relate to someone who looks like you, but you have to realize that you really need someone with whatever skills for gaps that you might have.@achildressa

If you have a room full of white men coming up with an application–building an application, it’s going to be very different than if you have a room with ethnic diversity and gender diversity. It will look different. It will be different and it will actually be better. @achildressa

I think people–every single one of us–has to be intentional about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and making sure people feel welcome regardless of where you are or what team they’re on, and that’s–to me that’s being a nice person.@achildressa

Women role models in IT and information security leadership can help diversity by increasing awareness of career opportunities available.

Getting diverse candidates in the door in IT and Cybersecurity isn’t enough. They must be made to feel welcome.

But one of the ways to change that narrative is to say, “Girls are technical, too. Girls can be technical, too. And there’s a lot of us out there that that have been or can be.” And so it’s just realizing that it is a stereotype and helping people understand that diversity means bringing in differences–people that are different than you–so that you can come up with a better solution.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Andrea Childress. Andrea is the Executive Director of Cybersecurity, Governance, Risk, and Compliance for the University of Nebraska. The GRC team provides resources and thought leadership around cybersecurity program management policy, risk assessment, compliance awareness, incident response, privacy and legal requirements. Andrea has a background in application development before moving into management and cybersecurity-focused roles. She has presented at the University of Nebraska Women Advance IT Leadership conference and the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference. Andrea has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration Management Information Systems and an MBA from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. You can contact Andrea at achildress@nebraska.edu. I encourage our listeners to visit HopefortheIntrovert.com where you’ll find complete show notes including a transcript of today’s conversations.

Ben: Welcome back. Andrea. I’m looking forward to our conversation today. One of the reasons I asked you to be on the podcast was that I attended a panel that you were part of at the 2019 EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference on women in leadership. And I know for our listeners who are part of more technical organizations, information technology and information security, it’s certainly not any 50/50 mix of men and women in those workplaces. So I thought it would be informative for all of us to talk about the issues. There’s a reason that you all had that panel at the conference. Why did you have the panel and what specific issues are you trying to address? What is the state of women in information technology, leadership or information security leadership?

Andrea: Yes. Ben, thanks for having me talk about this. So first of all, why did we do that panel? Well, I have to give credit to my coworker Cheryl O’Dell. It was her idea and we wanted to do it at the University of Nebraska. Every fall has a conference called Women Advance IT. And so it’s a pet project of our CIO that diversity, equity and inclusion are important to him. And so this is something that he did in order to change how the state of the world is in terms of IT, at least at the university. So that conference has been going on for four years as of last fall. And my coworker wanted to do this panel. I agreed to do it with her and I recruited another person and then she recruited another person. So we had this four person panel and the four of us would get on Zoom and talk about, “Okay, what questions do we want to ask ourselves?”

Andrea: What do we want to share, what’s going to make this interesting? So we came up with each person just told their story of how they became–basically their leadership journey and how they got to work in security. And then we talked about if or how being a woman had affected their career, right? If there had been any problems over the years or if there were any issues. People shared their stories about things that they had encountered coming up in the technology world as a woman. And then we would just open it up to the audience, and we got a lot of good questions. And I think the thing that stuck out to me was that women were–who would come up to us after the panel and talk about, “Oh my gosh! I’m so glad to hear that I’m not the only one that these kinds of things happened to,” or, “Boy! Security sounds really fun.”

Andrea:  “I want to know more. I thought you had to be super technical to work in security and you guys are showing me that there’s room for all kinds of people and all kinds of jobs in that area, and it’s super exciting and obviously there’s a lot of opportunity in security because there’s way more problems than there are people to solve them in security today.” To answer your question about what is the state. I think it’s like 14% of people in security are women and leadership is even a smaller number. It’s probably more like 5%. I should look that up–I don’t have it on the tip of my tongue. But it’s pretty sad and I have verified that over the years. When I go to a bigger group meeting, I look around the room and I count, and it’s usually one woman for every eight men, which I don’t know if that percentage works out, but it’s like that everywhere you go.

Andrea:  It was my coworker’s idea and so we did the panel and it was pretty successful and we felt really great to be able to speak and to hear positive feedback about it. And so then we decided to repeat it just last month, or I guess I was in May at the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference. And the same thing, we had a lot of great feedback. People thanked us for sharing that personal information because they could identify and they could relate, obviously. And we were also pretty constructive, “Here’s ways that we could try to change this.” And the biggest one is awareness, because a lot of it is so ingrained in people that–men and women–that they don’t even realize it. Then when you point out the things that are issues, “Oh, okay. I’m going to try to make sure I don’t do that anymore.” And it’s that unconscious bias term that you’ve probably heard about before. So that’s how I got around to working in this area and the current state.

Ben:  It’s interesting because both of us have gone to that same conference for a number of years. The conference has grown larger. I’m not sure the percentages have changed at all in that, I mean we were up over 800 people, I think this last year.

Andrea: Yeah, I think we were over 900.

Ben: I don’t know that there were a hundred women there or 120. A good number of them are clustered around awareness and training, which is what I do, so I tend to meet more of them probably. But there was also many people that I talked to. They didn’t feel like they belonged. They felt like they were around all of these security geeks who are all talking in this very jargon-laced language, not even realizing it at this point. I do think it’s a mainly unconscious or subconscious bias at this point, but you hear about it with programmers and things like that. Just that the workplaces themselves are just not friendly essentially, or that they’re even inappropriate with some of the language or some of the conversation that goes on.

Ben: That’s some of the challenges. What strategies? You mentioned awareness as part of the strategy on how to address this issue. Could you expand on that a little bit more and what do you think would make the biggest difference? And this is not an easy problem or an easy solution to confront or even figure out what to do with. Because in the 2018 conference, there was a breakout session around this [subject] watching a coding movie (CodeGirl). I don’t remember the name of it, but I will post that on the podcast once I figured out what it really is. But again, you look at your percentage of attendees and there’s some men at the thing. It’s almost–it’s primarily women and with the Women in Computing Leadership panel that you were a part of, for the men who attended, to me it was all of the usual suspects. It was the people I would expect to be there because they’ve shown interest before and they understand the issue. But I don’t know how many new people step into it, or, “I’m not going to go to that. That’s a soft topic. I’m going to go to the technical topics because obviously everything’s going to be solved by technology,” which obviously is not the case. How do you see raising awareness and any specific strategies around that?

Andrea: Well, you’re right, Ben. It is difficult. It’s not an easy thing to change. But when I said before how one of our people in the audience came up and said, “Geez, I thought all the jobs were technical.” And you said yourself, a lot of the people in security and awareness and training are females because there’s that stereotype about females being teachers and boys being the techie dudes in black sweat shirts and chugging Mountain Dew, right? That’s the stereotype. But one of the ways to change that narrative is to say, “Girls are technical, too. Girls can be technical, too. And there’s a lot of us out there that that have been or can be.” And so it’s just realizing that it is a stereotype and helping people understand that diversity means bringing in differences–people that are different than you–so that you can come up with a better solution.

Change the narrative! Girls are technical, too. Girls can be technical, too. And there's a lot of us out there that that have been or can be. Girls not being technical is a stereotype and helping people understand that diversity… Click To Tweet

Andrea: If you have a room full of white men coming up with an application–building an application, it’s going to be very different than if you have a room with ethnic diversity and gender diversity. It will look different. It will be different and it will actually be better. And that’s been proven in studies. Right? I’m not, making that up. But I think a lot of it is that awareness. And so you have to–people have to learn that you’re in charge of hiring someone–it’s natural for you to want to relate to someone who looks like you, but you have to realize that you really need someone with whatever skills for gaps that you might have.

When hiring someone, it's natural for you to want to relate to someone who looks like you, but you have to realize that you really need someone with whatever skills for gaps that you might have. @achildressa Click To Tweet

If you have a room full of white men building an application, it's going to be very different than if you have a room with ethnic diversity and gender diversity. It will look different. It will be different and it will actually be… Click To Tweet

Ben: Right. Another place that some people are finally starting to see these issues is design thinking. I know because there have been articles around it in a couple of different areas. One is around design thinking where your outcomes are going to be very much influenced by the people who are doing the thinking around the design and the priorities are going to reflect the people who are in the room. And again, if it’s all, as you mentioned, if it’s a large group of white males who are doing the design thinking and they’re all a certain Western culture, “Well surprise, surprise.” Their outcome is going to be impacted by that as well.

In design thinking outcomes are going to be very much influenced by the people who are doing the thinking around the design and the priorities are going to reflect the people who are in the room. @benwoelk Click To Tweet

Ben: The other place I’m starting to see the literature around this has to do with artificial intelligence and building programming around that, and all of the AI stuff–which I’m not expert in. But again, you have many white programmers, white male programmers who are working on that. And then it’s, “Well, what is the AI going to reflect?” It’s going to reflect their subconscious or conscious biases. So it’s a problem. It’s not an easily solvable problem. One of the things I’ve seen. I worked at the Rochester Institute of Technology and I typically adjunct teach an Intro to Computing Security class and we have a large program. There are around 250 students who take these intro classes every year. It’s rare that I would ever have more than three female students out of 30 in the class, and not unusual if I have none whatsoever. And that makes me wonder where the problem really needs to be addressed.

Ben: I’m thinking it needs to be addressed back at the high school level or maybe with career counselors or guidance counselors then, so they even understand that there are these opportunities–that there are these career paths and they are not sex-determined career paths. But I’m just trying to think in terms of what do we do at RIT? If we have co-op opportunities in our office, we try to make sure that we have female candidates, but we don’t have many out of the Computing Security department at all. I’m much more successful, again on the communication side, in terms of being able to find a good solid female co-op student who is strong at communication, which is another one of those stereotypes. But I also recognize how poorly most of my male IT students communicate. [Andrea laughing] So in that one, I’m trying to get the best person in that I possibly can. But it does make me wonder where this really needs to be addressed, and whether it’s entrance requirements or whether it’s even awareness that there’s that field or that field is open. I’m not sure. I think it needs to start earlier. I don’t know how to do that, but I think it needs to start earlier, and probably thinking and brainstorming, I can think of ways to do it where you would go into a classroom as an IT manager or security manager and then you’re a role model. So part of it I think is really celebrating the role models and making sure that people are aware of them.

Women role models in IT and information security leadership can help diversity by increasing awareness of career opportunities available. Click To Tweet

Andrea: Yeah, that’s funny, because I’m speaking in a couple of weeks at–I’m just looking at–it’s called the Cyber Gen conference in Omaha and it’s for–I think–middle school-aged girls. And so I’m going to be sharing my leadership journey there as well. And I’m pretty excited about that. I haven’t spoken to that demographic before, so that’ll, that should be fun. I hope. [Laughing] Or maybe even more difficult, I don’t know. But to go back to your question, You’re right. I’ve heard and read a lot that the pipeline is the problem, for females as they grow up and what they are exposed to.

Getting diverse candidates in the door in IT and Cybersecurity isn't enough. They must be made to feel welcome. Click To Tweet

Ben: Well, to be fair, it’s broader than the pipeline because it’s also going to be the the professors and instructors and what biases they have and whether women feel welcome in those classrooms or not too.

Andrea: That’s true. And yeah, that is what I was going to say, is that it’s not just how early you get to people. It has to be done at all levels, right? It has to be done all throughout your grades, your schooling, and your career. I think I shared at the panel in May, that I had heard the Microsoft CEO speak about a month ago. He was here in Nebraska at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s 150th celebration. And he shared his story, or he shared a thought about how every year at Microsoft, the class that they hire, the group of people that they hire is more and more diverse every year, but getting them in the door is not enough. You have to then make them feel welcome, and you already said it that way, Ben.

Andrea: And that’s exactly right. So if you think about a security team planning an outing where they’re going to go see the new Star Wars movie, and I’m not really interested in that, so I’m not going to go. I’m not gonna go just to be with my team if it’s not something I really want to do. I wonder what my team would say if I wanted them to go see, Bridget Jones Diary with me or something like that. How many men would come. It’s just things like that. And I just think it’s like the last episode where we talked about being intentional about networking. I think people–every single one of us–has to be intentional about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and making sure people feel welcome regardless of where you are or what team they’re on, and that’s–to me that’s being a nice person.

We have to be intentional about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and making sure people feel welcome regardless of where you are or what team they're on. That's being a nice person. @achildressa Click To Tweet

Ben: Well, something else you referenced the last time we chatted was mentoring, the importance of mentoring. And I think that’s a big piece of this too. And I think men being willing to mentor women and without having harassment problems mixed in with everything else, I think is a big part of it too. I think there may be mentoring is not the right way to work on it, maybe it’s advocates who are supportive of increasing women’s role in IT. Leadership and mentoring I think is a piece of that. But I think the advocate piece is important as well.

Andrea: Yup. I think you’re absolutely right. And you know, one of the things I’ve learned in doing this panel was just people hearing us stand up there and talk just gave them, “Oh my gosh. I feel so much more comfortable about talking about this myself.” And myself as a women–and probably also being an introvert–one of the things that I’ve struggled with is just having confidence, self confidence, being assertive and speaking up in meetings and those kinds of things. And I’ve had to do the same thing in terms of networking where I just make myself do it, practice and practice and practice. And eventually when I fail I realize that I can recover from that. And it’s not a big deal. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying. Right? You’ve heard that before. So, confidence is a super important tool in life. You have to take the risk to get a reward. And if you’re not taking risks, you’re kind of just warming the bench in life. And you’ll have to forgive a sports analogy where we’re talking about women. [Laughing]

Ben: You’re at the University of Nebraska, you’re going to have sports analogies. I went to the University of Florida. There will be sports analogies.

Ben: So any resources that you would recommend maybe they’re books, maybe there are other types of resources that you would recommend for women who want to be or who already are leaders in different information technology or different technical types of fields?

Andrea: Yeah. well, I already mentioned the Women Advance IT conference here at the University of Nebraska this year. So that’s a really great conference now. And there are other ones at other Higher Ed institutions, if that’s your industry that you’re in. And I’m sure there are in all of the industries now. I mean, it’s becoming more and more popular, which is fantastic. In terms of books, everyone’s heard of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and that was probably the first book that I read at some point where I said, “Yeah. Yeah. You know, I identify with this.” And so I of course turned around and bought the book for my two female nieces, and I’m pretty sure they haven’t read it, but they might need it someday. And then a couple of years ago, I learned about a book called the Confidence Code, and I read that book and that for me–was something that just, “Oh, this is normal. The way I feel is normal.” And it’s actually probably more neurological or it’s not just the fact that I’m shy or the fact that I’m insecure. Women are less likely to be assertive than men. And that’s just a fact. So it just helped me realize, “Oh, okay. It’s just a thing, right? It’s just something that I just need to be aware of and I can work on it.” There’s lots of ways to work on that. And there’s lots of podcasts–I’m trying to–I can’t think of one top of my head, but I know that there are some out there. I’ll have come back to those. [laughing] We’ll put them in the show notes.


Ben: But it’s interesting. I think the sharing-the-story part is really important and mainly because–or one of the primary reasons is because–people don’t understand they’re normal. And that’s what I found once I started speaking on introverted leadership as well. I was stunned by the reaction, and how many people embraced it and what a difference it made for them for someone to stand up–even as a white male–someone to stand up as an introvert and a leader and talk about my journey. And that it’s, it’s just incredibly transformative. It’s like the first time you talk to someone who’s read Susan Cain’s Quiet book or something like that. And how different they feel after understanding that things they have thought to be a handicap or something that they believe has held them back, and they understand that, “No, that’s a normal thing.” And also there are strengths and even understanding what those strengths are, I’ve found has made a big difference.

Andrea: Yeah, that’s a great, that’s sort of a great analogy–or it’s not an analogy–but a good parallel in terms of being an introvert or a woman in technology. So, do you think that introvert/extrovert is about 50/50, is that the ratio?

Ben: I think it depends on what you read. And I’m really, I don’t know, it’s not a low number. It’s, you know, 45%, 50%. I don’t know how many people self identify either way. And I think there’s a lot of confusion because there are many people who will equate how shy someone is or if they’re afraid of public speaking and assume that that’s an introverted trait. But that can be either, especially the public speaking part of it. I have plenty of extroverted friends who are terrified of the idea of standing in front of people and talking.

Ben: I do think that what we are seeing is that most leadership is extroverted or are extroverts. And I think a lot of that is coming out of the business schools and the role models that we’re given as leaders and Western culture in general. I don’t believe this transfers across to non-Western cultures in the same way at all. In the few conversations I’ve had with people and what study I’ve done, there’s just very different perspectives on how you get things done and the U.S. and America is just not, we’re not very good at–I think we’re pretty parochial in terms of assuming that, “Well this is the way you do things. Of course it’s the way you do things. It’s the way we do things here.” And I think the lack of travel for people sometimes, and even enmeshed, especially not being enmeshed with other cultures, I think you get different–I think you would get a much broader attitude towards who a leader is, what a leader is, what makes sense in the workplace when you get that exposure.

Andrea: Yeah. That’s a really good insight. Well, I’m not surprised that you’ve had people thank you for doing this podcast because I do think it is valuable and I love to hear the stories myself and everyone’s perspectives. And yeah, so I was asking if it’s 50/50 for sure. I was thinking it probably, I think that what I’ve read is that it is around that ratio, but in the technology industry there’s a lot more introversion than extroversion I think. Yeah. And so it’s a–I don’t know that I’d say it’s a problem, but it’s prevalent in technology, right? We do need to be intentional about doing that and making sure that we’re helping ourselves.

Ben: Yeah. Well I do think it’s a very good thing in terms of a target audience. But yeah, there’s a lot of work that can be done there. And a lot of, enlightenment is one word, which I don’t really like, but a lot of self knowledge and then probably actualization once you realize that, “Oh .yeah. I’m an introvert and I do have strengths and if I want to be a leader, I can be a leader and I can be an effective leader.

Ben: So this has been a great conversation. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. It’s been fun. So throwing a different question at you to wrap up here, which I’ve started doing to my guests. What is one thing about you that people would be surprised to learn?

Andrea: Oh, Geez. Yeah. Yeah. Like thanks for that sideball–curve ball. Well, as an introvert, one of the crazy things about me is a few years ago, and I don’t do this anymore, but I used to be a Zumba teacher. I went through my first Zumba class in 2012 or something, and I loved it and I’ve always loved to dance. And so I went to my very first class, I said, “Oh my gosh!” I wanted to be the one in the front of that room, picking up the music and showing how to do the moves or whatever. And so I went to the training class and I practiced and I became a teacher, and I got a part-time job where I was teaching it at our YMCA. And when you sit down and you think about that, when you’re a Zumba teacher, you have to exaggerate your movements to get the excitement from your students so that you’re, you’re supposed to be making them have so much fun that they forget they’re exercising, right? And so you have to really clown it up. And as an introvert, I realized how hard that was for me to do at first. But it was so much fun. And when you know, you see the smiles on people’s faces, it was super rewarding and worth it. And it was also very good exercise. So that was–I can’t believe I was ever a Zumba teacher! I had to give it up for work, and because I got hurt. [laughing] It was fun though.

Ben: I would have a hard time maintaining a smile or big smile in front of everyone. That’s great! Andrea, I want to thank you again for being a guest on the podcast. It’s been a great conversation and who knows down the line maybe we’ll find some new things to talk about and record another session.

Andrea: Thanks so much, Ben. It’s been fantastic!

 

 

Extras

Women in Security (Not Insecurity) panel at EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference 2019

Cover Slide for Women in Security (not insecurity) panel at EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference 2019

 


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Andrea Childress headshot

Episode 029: Andrea Childress–Building Social Skills and Networking

Category:EDUCAUSE,Higher Education,Information Security,introversion,Introverted Leadership,introverts,Leadership,Podcast

Episode 029 Show Notes: Andrea Childress

Introduction

Andrea Childress and Ben Woelk discuss building social skills as an introvert, networking, and the importance of mentoring. Note: Andrea is now UNK Chief Information Officer and University of Nebraska Assistant Vice President for Information Technology Services .

Andrea Childress headshot

Key concepts

  • You can improve social skills by practicing and intentionally getting out of your comfort zone
  • Initiating relationships with new people can be challenging as an introvert
  • A leadership training program may help you grow your social skills
  • Mentoring is great for your growth; either internally or externally
  • Even an analytical introvert may want to be around people more
  • An intentional meeting framework such as Five Dysfunctions of a Team can lead to more effective meetings

Quotable

If I want to really be a leader I need to step up and I need to reach out more. So I just started pushing myself and believe me it was baby steps at first

I can’t overestimate how valuable it is to have a network, to lean on that network, to provide support to that network

Instead of just sitting there taking notes or scanning my phone while I’m in between sessions or something, I’m trying to look around and meet people

Olympic athletes have a strength and conditioning coach,a skills and drills, coach, a nutritionist. Find mentors that help you be your best in many different areas

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Andrea Childress. Andrea is the Executive Director of Cybersecurity, Governance, Risk, and Compliance for the University of Nebraska. The GRC team provides resources and thought leadership around cybersecurity program management policy, risk assessment, compliance awareness, incident response, privacy and legal requirements. Andrea has a background in application development before moving into management and cybersecurity-focused roles. She has presented at the University of Nebraska Women Advance IT conference and the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference. Andrea has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration Management Information Systems and an MBA from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. You can contact Andrea at achildress@nebraska.edu. I encourage our listeners to visit HopefortheIntrovert.com where you’ll find complete show notes including a transcript of today’s conversations.

Ben: Hi Andrea. How are you?

Andrea: Hi Ben. I’m good, thank you.

Ben: Welcome to the Hope for the Introvert podcast. Very much looking forward to our conversation today. Can you tell us about your role at the University of Nebraska and what your workplace is like?

Andrea: Sure. Well first of all, thanks for having me. It’s great to be here. My role at the University of Nebraska, it’s a little bit complicated, especially right now. I have the GRC executive director role on our cybersecurity and identity team, which actually provides services for all three campuses within the University of Nebraska. And those are in the cities of Kearney, Lincoln, and Omaha. But I’m also at the University of Nebraska at Kearney located physically because I’ve been here for 25 years. I started out as an application developer and worked my way up and now I’m the Deputy CIO in effect. So I’ve been here for a long time and that team of people is about 22 professionals. But two years ago the University of Nebraska, ITS shops combined from our three campuses. So now my ITS department has over 300 people. So there’s been a lot of change in the last two years there.

Ben: So it’s not really centralization because you didn’t move, it’s more of a centralized management?

Andrea: That’s correct. We have leaders on all three of our campuses now and I have people that report to me in both of the other two cities, and my bosses are in other cities as well. So it’s really, it’s really crazy. But we use IM a lot and we talk as much as we can. We use tools like Slack as well and lots and lots of email. But basically, yeah, we have five shared services or scaled services where those things like infrastructure and client services and security, we’re doing them all, or we’re working to provide all those services in the same way across the enterprise in order to scale for efficiencies and to save money.

Ben: Okay. So what’s your workplace like then with this very large extended organization but a small number of people on the Kearney campus?

Andrea: Yeah, it’s really interesting and like I said, it’s been a lot of change for us to get used to and be able to take advantage of that large number of resources. The best advantage for, for my campus here, which I’ll refer to as UN-K (if I say that later).

Andrea: It’s when you said extended that it reminded me of extended family, because we’re small here in Kearney and so we’re kind of like a family, and now that we have these extra people in these other cities. It is like our extended family that we get to work with everyday and lean on really, because we’re greater together. Obviously, because there’s so much more depth than we used to have.

Ben: Okay. So is your organization at Kearney, are you centralized or are you kind of distributed amongst the different colleges?

Andrea: There are three colleges on the Kearney campus, three academic colleges plus plus the graduate. And so some of those colleges have one or two distributed IT people. But those people even have a dotted line to our central IT organization. So we’re sort of a blend. But the Lincoln campus has a lot of distributed IT and Omaha has some as well. So it’s a mix like you find in most systems, I think.

Ben: Okay. And I don’t know how many of our listeners are familiar with information technology and higher education, but it has its own unique set of challenges. I think there’s an assumption on the outside (or maybe not), that everything is centralized and a central group handles all of the different colleges. And I know at least at RIT that that’s certainly not the case. And you have your tensions between more of a centralized IT organization that handles the network, and then you have colleges that have different needs. So they sometimes have their own IT organizations. So it can be–it’s, I would say bit of a zoo, but that may be–that may be accurate. Actually. We’ll go with zoo for now.

Ben: So you’ve identified as an introvert and actually as an Artisan, which is unusual, because most people that are–that come out with the temperament type of Artisans don’t have a lot of interest–at least what I’ve found–in terms of talking about temperament and things like that. So this is actually unusual. So I’m looking really looking forward to the conversation! Talk to me a little bit about what it’s like being an introvert at work or in life in general.

Andrea: Yeah, that’s a great question. So I think early on when I was an application developer, it was not unusual for me to sit in my office almost all day, every day. Periodically there would be meetings where I was meeting with my clients, basically learning the requirements of what they needed to be worked on. Right? But again, I’m on a kind of a small campus. There’s about 7,000 students here. So there’s only about 500 faculty and staff. And I worked in administrative computing in those days. And so it was this very small number of people that I needed to work with, which fit my personality great. Because as an introvert, you have a small number of very close friends, typically, as opposed to the extroverts that have more friends than or acquaintances And I don’t know how close they are to all of them.

Andrea: But I would spend a lot of time alone and I really liked the work there because–I’m also analytical. So when you got done writing a computer program, you could see that the results were correct. You knew when you were done, whether it was right, what you could validate it by, by running some other data’s extracts or something like that. But then as I grew and got a Master’s degree and an MBA, I got a little bored with that and I got tired of being alone all the time. And I learned that I really do want to work with people. And so I moved into management and I started leading the application development team. And then early in the early 2000s when security–cybersecurity became a thing, I started leading that area, which you know, that over-arches all the facets of it and you can’t–we’re not one person or one small team can do security. So you have to work with all of it. And so that’s been great because I do really like to collaborate, and I have learned that working with other people helps you come up with a better answer than you just by yourself. Did that answer your question?

Ben: Yeah, kind of. [laughing] You’ve talked about what it’s like being in your office and going from really a very much sole contributor role to now having moved into management and being around people a lot more. One of the other things that you hit on was how you knew at the end of the day whether something would work or not, because you could run an abstract or a report of some kind around that and tell whether or not it was working. So I’m assuming that it’s a little bit more complicated now. And I’m curious, what do you-how have you found this change to working with people? I realize it’s been a number of years now, but also what do you is your biggest challenges in the workplace as an introvert?

Andrea: Yeah. Well, I do think I’m more analytical at heart than–one of my college professors said, you’re either a touchy-feely manager or you’re a number cruncher, accountant type of person. And I’ve always kind of felt like I was both, but I do think I tend to be more of the number cruncher. And so what I think is challenging is sometimes I like to take extra time to process before I can respond, and that can actually be perceived as inaction, right? Like, why, why haven’t I heard from her? You know? And so I do have to learn to make decisions quicker than I am–more than I am comfortable with, so that I can get back to people in a timely manner as they’re expecting. Otherwise, they think they’ve asked a question and it’s gone into a black hole.

Andrea: But also another challenge for me is initiating relationships with new people. That making myself do that just for the sake of doing that. It’s not hard to meet people when there’s a reason that you’re on the phone or you’re in a meeting, but to just be more outgoing, to get to know people because when you collaborate, you’re giving and you’re also receiving. And so that to me is also very satisfying in a different way, much like writing code and getting the right answers and satisfying that.

Ben: So were there specific steps you took towards being say more social? I don’t want to say that because that sounds like it’s a handicap of some kind–but being more comfortable with initiating conversations with people and things like that?

Andrea: Yeah. mostly it’s just practice and making myself step out of my comfort zone. What got me to the point where I realized I needed to do that was going through a leadership training program. And they were spending a lot of time in this one session about how your network is really important and you would need to be intentional about building your network. And I kind of thought to myself, “Wow, I’ve never built a network.” I’ve just worked with people that happened to cross my path that I needed to work with. And so that just got me thinking, “Wow, you know, if I want to really be a leader I need to step up and I need to reach out more. So I just started pushing myself and believe me it was baby steps at first. Right? You know? [laughing] But now it’s much more common and it’s easier for me to do it.

If I want to really be a leader I need to step up and I need to reach out more. So I just started pushing myself and believe me it was baby steps at first.--Andrea Click To Tweet

Andrea: And what I’ve learned when I’m approaching someone or introducing myself to someone that I don’t know is that generally people are nice and people like to talk about themselves. So if you just ask a question or two, you’re typically gonna get, a conversation. You might learn something and you might be able to share something with them. And it’s usually beneficial. And it’s usually worth it in the end. Even if you don’t have anything to work together or that can benefit either of you at the beginning, if you remember that person’s name you can contact them later and they might be able to help you or you might be able to help them in the future. So that’s really great and really it’s just practice. I just make myself do it when I go somewhere. Instead of just sitting there taking notes or scanning my phone while I’m in between sessions or something, I’m trying to look around and meet people or I talk to someone and ask them a question or something like that.

Instead of just sitting there taking notes or scanning my phone while I'm in between sessions or something, I'm trying to look around and meet people. Andrea Click To Tweet

Ben: So you’ve made it very intentional and really kind of pushing back against what your natural would probably–I know for me, I’m going to check my phone because I don’t really want to talk to anyone right now and they won’t bother me if they know I’m on my phone. And of course then you look across the room and 90% of the people are doing the same thing. So it’s always kind of interesting. You had mentioned in your pre-podcast questionnaire that you had taken part in a workshop or something or had an assignment in an EDUCAUSE workshop where you were required to talk to someone else?

Andrea: Yeah. Yeah. This is a fun story, and this was early on when I was being more intentional about doing this, but I was in a, I think it was a four hour workshop. No, it must’ve been an eight hour workshop because it was right before lunch. And the person who was leading the workshop, she said, “Okay. It’s time for lunch, but I want you to take five minutes.” So we were sitting in round tables, there was probably eight people per table “and turn to someone at your table and ask them their name, ask them where they live and then ask them what a fun fact about themselves is. And so, you know, this was an IT security workshop. And so most people just looked straight down or typed on their computers or got their phones out, or maybe they left the room, They just went to the bathroom or went to lunch early and didn’t, do the exercise. And I was like, “Okay, this is a opportunity to be intentional about this.” That’s in my lap, right? It’s been given to me and how much easier could it possibly be? So I turned to the guy sitting next to me and introduced myself and asked him his name. And it was funny because we had this long conversation, and he was telling me about his daughter who was a competitive handgun–yeah. Competitive shooting with a handgun person [laughing] award-winning I guess. And so it was just really fun. Well then we came back from lunch, and we were getting ready to start the second half of the day. And the workshop presenters said, “Okay, who wants to share something that they learned about their neighbor?” And, you know, instantly all eyes straight down at the table.

Andrea: And so I’m like, “Here I go.” So I stood up and I said, “This person is Kyle. He’s from San Diego and his daughter is an award-winning handgun competitor.” And that’s all I had to do. And then I sat down and one other person out of the whole room of at least 50 people stood up and kind of shared a little something about their neighbor, and no one else would even give eye contact to the person [laughing]. I felt very proud of myself, but also that this was like no big deal. But for me it was a big deal and it was kind of a turning point or a good example of how I was trying to work on that kind of thing. And now it’s much more a natural thing. So I would just say,

Ben: I wonder what the response the facilitator really expected. If they had been around IT people before and to see if anybody–it says something that there are only two people willing to share out of the group there. So that, it is funny. So what do you consider to be your strengths? What are the things that you really bring as an introvert and how do those work out for you? How do you leverage those?

Andrea: That’s a good question. Yeah. I think when I was talking before about how introverts have a small number of really close friends, the way I see that translating into my professional life is my ability to build relationships with people. I’m very I’m empathetic and I believe that I build really good relationships with those people that I work with, and I trust them and they trust me. And so I think that has worked out really well. And then also I think my analytical ability, which I am not 100% sure if that is an introvert characteristic. But I work in risk management now. So,they kind of go hand in hand, and I have this analytical thought process, so I think it’s great for the security realm. Because security works collaboratively across the IT organization, I get to feel that collaboration a lot or I get to use that collaboration skill, but really those one-on-one relationships can– you can’t even measure the value. It’s just fantastic being able to build a good relationship. And I’ve had a lot of feedback from people in that regard, “You, you act like you really care about me” and I’m like, “I do.” I don’t know why people would be surprised by that.

You can't even measure the value one-on-one relationships . It's just fantastic being able to build a good relationship. Andrea Click To Tweet

Ben: It’s really interesting to have empathy as one of your strengths, I think. And I don’t–I think that’s definitely the case for some introverts. I know my temperament type. I’m an INTJ, and I’m not supposed to have empathy for anything or anyone whatsoever. And it doesn’t really work out that way, but it’s kind of the, “Oh,. you’re the logical person. Emotions don’t sway you, and blah blah blah.” But none of us, we don’t fit those categories all that well anyway. So in what ways have you found that you’re an influencer or leader in the workplace? And in our next segment we’ll talk about women in leadership and your passion about that and what you’re accomplishing there. But in general, what ways have you been an influencer or leader?

Andrea: Wow. There’s probably a number of them, but currently in the last two years since our IT organization is combined across the University of Nebraska, there’s a security managers team that’s been working together–the service managers and the people that actually manage teams. And so this sort of new group is thrown together and we’re not really given a direction. We know we have to work together. We don’t really know how. And so a few meetings into it, I was kind of thinking to myself, “Well, I don’t really get what we’re working towards on this team. It’s like we get together and we share information, but we don’t have a real purpose or you know, it’s not great, these meetings.” Right? So I started trying to get this team to think about what we needed to be learning from each other and telling each other on a weekly or biweekly basis.

Andrea: We changed our scheduling up quite a bit. And then I read this book called the Five Dysfunctions of a Team about making high performing teams. And so I started getting that group to do some of the things in that book and I shared with them all the takeaways. The author of that book is Patrick Lencioni and then he has his second book called Death by Meetings. Which is fantastic. And so we changed our meeting structure to follow that–the way that book describes part of his, his strategy in the book. And it’s been fantastic. It’s kind of night and day how we started to work better together and early on the five dysfunctions of a team work that we did. It’s a lot of sharing feedback with each other, getting to know each other, mentoring each other. And so that’s the kind of thing you have to do. You have to get to know people before you’re comfortable pushing back on their–what they’re saying or questioning or asking them a hard question to make sure that we’re moving in the right direction. But that’s really important. In security. I mean there’s so much work to do and you can’t possibly do it all. So making sure we’re doing it the right way and the best way.

Ben: Yeah, I agree with you on that. And I think in the security realm, none of us know everything and to even pretend that we do, or to try to hold on information and not share it is one of the ways you end up with real problems. Because, “Well, if I had known that was an issue, we could have worked together to solve it,” as opposed to, “Oh, now we’ve had this incident.” And it was because we didn’t talk enough initially to start it. I’ve also been on those dysfunctional teams where getting to know each other and casual conversation was really discouraged, [Andrea laughing] and they were not–they were not enjoyable and maybe they were somewhat effective, but I think that had more to do with the fact that people were, “We’re talking to each other anyway,” and wanted very much to work together to make things work regardless of how the team was functioning or how the team was managed. So I think it’s a really important thing. Like I said, it’s much broader than just IT and the whole idea of high performing teams. I love the Death by Meetings !I have not read the book, but we’ve all experienced it and probably experienceit still very, very often. What recommendations do you have for introverts who want to become influencers or leaders?

Andrea: Okay. Well I guess I would go back to the networking thing. I can’t overestimate how valuable it is to have a network, to lean on that network, to provide support to that network. When you have a problem at work and you realize, “Hey, I have to go work with Ben, but I’ve never met Ben before.” If you have already built a relationship, it’s so much easier to deal with whatever that problem is. And that is the case at any level, whether you’re just starting out or if you’re a CIO. Right? So try to get over that networking fear if you have it like I had it as well. And just remember people are nice. They like to talk about themselves. They like to talk about themselves. It’s the easiest way to get it started [laughing]

I can't overestimate how valuable it is to have a network, to lean on that network, to provide support to that network. Andrea Click To Tweet

Ben: Networking has come up as a theme several times in the podcast interviews. And I think a lot of the issue stems from people’s perception of what networking really means. And rather than the, “Oh. The’re 25 people in this room, I have to meet all 25 people and I have to have speed dating,” essentially you’re speed networking. And just spend that five minutes with each one of them and move on to the next person, compared to, they’re 25 people in the room and there are a couple that you might actually spend extensive conversation time with. And then you do get to know each other a little bit. It certainly makes it much easier when you have an opportunity to work together. You now know that person is a good resource for that because you had that in-depth conversation, rather than, “Oh, they work at such and such, and blah, blah, blah, and next?” Which just doesn’t work for me at all. I think many introverts in general have a–I don’t know if it’s a fear of small talk, but the idea of it is in some cases paralyzing and definitely something that we feel like we want to avoid.

Andrea: Right. And I mean, I’ve heard lots of techniques for small talk. If you’re going to an event, check the latest headlines or the latest industry trade news about whatever the conferences you’re attending or something like that. But yeah, just having one or two things in your pocket that you can lean on if you do draw a blank is helpful. And then again, just ask people about themselves.

Andrea: I was going to say one other thing about in what ways have I been an influencer, a leader. And again, going back to I think my strength in empathy and interpersonal relationships, is using a mentoring program, either volunteering to be a mentor or are asking to have a mentor in more than one. You don’t just need one at a time, right? If you’re an Olympic athlete, think of it like this. If you’re an Olympic athlete, you’ve got your strength and conditioning coach, you’ve got your–I don’t know–skills and drills, coach, you have your nutritionist. I mean, you have all these people that are helping you be your best and you need to think about yourself in that way as well in terms of your career. So figuring out what you need help in or where you want to grow and try to find or seek out a mentor if it’s possible. Because that has been really fantastic for me. And, and their only goal if you have a mentor, is to help you figure out how to get to your next level. And so, it’s always mentoring that’s important. Right?

Olympic athletes have a strength and conditioning coach,a skills and drills, coach, a nutritionist. Find mentors that help you be your best in many different areas. Andrea Click To Tweet

Ben: Do you recommend them as an internal mentor or an external mentor? Or maybe it’s some of each. I’m not sure.

Andrea:Yeah, I would say all of the above. I mean, I’ve had them internally across the enterprise here at the University of Nebraska. I’ve I had them through the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference. I know I’ve had more, but yeah, just I would take anybody who wanted to be my mentor, because I’ve gained so much knowledge from each relationship that I’ve had. [laughing]

Ben: Great! So, are you mentoring also?

Andrea: Yes. we just started a mentoring program here just within our internal ITS department ,and we just piloted it in the last couple of months and it’s going to be more of full-blown this fall. And I was a mentor in that program. And that’s invaluable just to get to know people on another campus. Right. I mean if you’re not physically in the same city, just spending that time to get to know people is really great.

Ben: Yeah, I’ve found I’ve been more, I think on the mentoring side than being mentored side, but that’s probably my own fault as much as anything. But I’ve found the mentoring relationships to be really–well, they’re very rich and they transform both the mentee and the mentor, and especially, one just getting to know each other better. But as you work with people on specific types of areas that they want to polish up or make stronger, whether it’s an interpersonal or how to handle conflict at work–our favorite thing for all of us–you gain a lot of information from them as well. And a lot of–I think a lot of strategies.

Andrea: True. Right. And when we did our reorganization, I mean there’s a lot of people that are managers now that weren’t before. So we just had a big need for that. And so those of us that had been doing it for a few years were asked to help.

Ben:
Thank you Andrea for being on Hope for the Introvert today. I’m looking forward to our continued conversation as we delve into women in leadership and the challenges that women face there.

 

Extras

Women in Security (Not Insecurity) panel at EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference 2019

Cover Slide for Women in Security (not insecurity) panel at EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference 2019

 


  • 0
Megan Mack Headshot

Episode 28: Megan Mack–Introverts and Improvisation

Category:introversion,Introverted Leadership,introverts,Leadership,Podcast

Episode 028 Show Notes: Megan Mack

Introduction

Megan Mack and Ben Woelk discuss the importance of improvisation exercises for introverts and building communication skills.

Megan Mack Improvisation facilitator

Key concepts

  • Improvisation skills help introverts
  • Improv is about listening and reacting
  • Introverts can be amazing improv facilitators
  • Ben’s Introverts and Leadership class includes an improvisation workshop
  • Mirroring helps communicate with people in a way that’s more effective
  • Improv helps you be more accepting of others’ ideas
  • Work hard, try to be as confident as you can, and trust your instincts.

Quotable

The beautiful thing about improv, especially for introverts, is that it’s all about listening and reacting.

Introverts are such good listeners and they’re good followers. They build upon ideas. I think a lot of the time they have empathy; they have emotional intelligence.

Mirroring helps communicate with people in a way that’s more effective both for them and for myself.

Improv really forces you to think, Yes, I like your idea and here’s how we can try to make it work.

We get stuck in our heads, we stop listening and we think our ideas can be the only ideas or the best ones or the right ones.

‘Yes, and’ has been very important for me to understand, especially in leadership positions and you want to have a persona that is supportive of people and not setting an atmosphere where they’re afraid to advance their ideas.

 

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

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Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Megan Mack. Megan Mack is an improviser, sketch comedy writer, and television and radio producer based in Rochester. She is a graduate of the Conservatory and Writing programs at The Second City Training Centre in Toronto, and has studied with Jimmy Carrane, Armando Diaz, Susan Messing, and T.J. Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Megan performs with the sketch comedy and improvisation troupe, “Thank You Kiss,” and coaches improv and sketch comedy at the Rochester Brainery, Writers & Books, the Focus Theatre, and more. When she’s not on stage, Megan produces “Connections with Evan Dawson,” the daily afternoon radio talk show at Rochester’s NPR station, WXXI. She has also produced television segments for WHEC-TV, NBC Olympics, NBC Entertainment, and Seeten TV in Florence, Italy. I first met Megan at one of her improvisation classes at the Rochester Brainery. Since then, she’s conducted improvisation workshops for me for the STC Rochester Spectrum Conference and my Introverts and Leadership class at RIT. You can contact Megan at mac.megan01@gmail.com.

Ben: Welcome back, Megan. I’m glad you’re joining us again on the program. Today we’re going to talk about improvisation and communication and introverts doing improv, which almost sounds counter-intuitive in some ways. We had started the last time we spoke about how you had gotten started in improv and my first contact with you was attending one of your improv workshops at the Rochester Brainery. And one thing I probably have not told you about that is I refused to let my wife come with me because it was my first time doing improv, and I was afraid I was going to be an absolute idiot and I’ll do it the first time and I’ll just get through it. But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it also and I’ve always enjoyed watching it and being part of the audience, but it in some ways it’s such a freeing type of activity, I guess once you get past your own head with it. Let’s talk a little bit more about what it’s like to be an introvert, yet you teach improv.

Megan: It’s as you mentioned in our previous segment, it can be hard for you to be up in front of a class sometimes and it’s very hard. The most difficult part of improv classes for me is starting the class, talking a little bit about myself and just talking about the basics of improv. Not that I’m uncomfortable talking about improv, but I don’t want to be me. Once we get into character work, I’m fine and I have a great time, but it can be intimidating, especially as an introvert to be up in front of a group of people and be leading the class .

Ben: Well and they’re all looking to you.

Megan: Right! Everybody’s looking at you.

Ben: Completely, especially at the beginning because–and one thing that you’ve done, is you just helped me with my Introverts and Leadership class I’m doing at RIT, and we’re going to get to do that again in the fall, which will be great fun. But some of the students shared that in all honesty, they almost didn’t sign up for the class because there was an improvisation workshop part of it, and at least one or two of them were really uncomfortable with being there. And eventually they relaxed. But you could certainly tell up front.

Megan: I hear that a lot, especially when I work with companies that ask me to come in and do team building exercises. But the beautiful thing about improv, especially for introverts, is that it’s all about listening and reacting. So the basic rule of improv is, you know, is say “Yes, and.” You want to agree to someone else’s ideas and build on them. But you can’t do that unless you’re actively listening. So I’m going to work off whatever you give me, and I know that you’re giving me something. We call it a gift or an offer in improv. You don’t have to put any pressure on yourself to come up with something because your team is there to support you, to have your back. So I was terrified in my first ever improv class. But once I realized we’re all here together, we’re all going to help each other and we all need to listen to each other and it got so much easier.

The beautiful thing about improv, especially for introverts, is that it's all about listening and reacting. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Megan: And I’m sure there are exercises that are more difficult than others. I can think of some that I still am not a huge fan of to this day and I’ve been doing this for more than a decade. But you can find the confidence within yourself because you know you’ve got a team around you and because introverts are such good listeners and they’re good followers. They build upon ideas. I think a lot of the time they have empathy; they have emotional intelligence. It can be a natural thing to be in an improv scene. It’s not about performing. It’s about reacting.

Introverts are such good listeners and they're good followers. They build upon ideas. I think a lot of the time they have empathy; they have emotional intelligence. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Ben: And I think that’s a really good point. And when we’ve, well one thing that we did, we kind of put together a syllabus for the class and with the exercises that we were going to be using, and there was no way I was going to share it with the class ahead of time because they would try to prepare for it. And the question came up, even with a team building that you’re going to be doing with us of, “Well, what exercises? What are we going to do?” I’m not going to tell you what we’re going to do because you’ll try to practice and be ready for it and it just does not work that way,

Megan: Right? It goes back to getting in your head. So if you’re trying to come up with scene ideas, or character ideas, or something to say when you’re standing on the back line watching a scene, you’re not actively listening. It’s better to go out there. I always tell students, go out there when you’re the most scared, when you have the most anxiety because you’re thinking the least. You’re so nervous that you’ll go out there and you’ll take whatever you’re given and you’ll build on it. It’s better than thinking, well, I haven’t been out there yet and I haven’t been really funny, but I have this old lady character that I know is going to work, so I’m going to go out there and play this old lady. This scene could be about a couple on a honeymoon. On a beach was this woman there. Now it makes no sense. I mean you could make it work, I’m sure, but the point is you’re not actively listening.

Ben: No, it’s not. It’s not a natural thing to make that work necessarily either. [Megan, “Right”] Yeah, it was really entertaining. The first session that I did with you, and I think I’ve done a couple with you there and we’ve done the other ones and I’ve even stepped into co-facilitating some improv at a conference, which was an interesting experience, too, because the guy I was partnered with was a hundred percent extrovert. I mean as extroverted as you could possibly be, and then I’m not, and just the mix in terms of how we worked with people, it was just–it was kind of crazy.

Megan: How did that go?

Ben: I think overall it worked. I had a lot of people who signed up for it because they trusted me and I felt very validated by it, but also felt like, “Oh, I need to make sure that my very extroverted friend doesn’t go totally over the top with things which he could do.” But overall it was a fun experience. It was tiring. It was two, two-hour sessions in two days as part of the conference activities along with everything else that was going on with it of course. And I really enjoyed it.

Ben: And part of what really got me excited about improv was Alan Alda’s book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating, where he has spent this time with Stonybrook-Long Island and set up this Institute for helping science and medical professionals communicate, and just talking about how valuable that improv work is for them because they learn to be active listeners and they learn to empathize. And I kind of took that and looked at it and said, well how will that work for introverts? Because I feel like–well RIT, honestly, yes, we have that same type of personality types as scientists or medical professionals anyway, but in general, how would these same techniques work for improv?

Ben: And it was really exciting this last spring when we did our morning, yes, Saturday morning early improv session, which was a challenge for everyone there. But it was really exciting because you saw–I mean there were some struggles, definitely some struggles at times typically when they weren’t being physical enough in a scene. But in general, the follow-up survey I did, it’s like everyone nailed it. They all really loved you, but they all understood what they were getting out of it in terms of communication skills and that part was really, really rewarding. Honestly, it was a five week class. It was an online class. I had them read books, I had them write reflection papers, we did an improv workshop. I didn’t feel like I was working at all, because it was so much fun and I’m looking forward to being able to offer that again this fall as well.

Megan: I read the book that you mentioned after you told me about it. I zipped through it in two days. I learned so much from that book and one of the greatest things I learned was about mirroring. I’ve done the mirroring exercises before in my classes, but I thought I need to apply this more to my professional life and I have and it has just been so eye-opening for me, whether it’s noticing body language or vocal choices or just how someone is feeling. It’s really, really been beneficial.

Ben: Yeah, and found–I’ve been in another workshop and they did the mirroring and they did it for like 60 seconds and that was so hard, because you realize I really should not have had quite as intense an emotion I was trying to portray. To do that for 60 seconds–How much can you yell and shout? And it’s like, Oh my gosh, we still have 40 seconds left. But it was, it was interesting. So what did you find most helpful with the mirroring?

Megan: I think I’m pretty in tune with body language and how people are feeling a lot of the time. But there was a section of the book where they were talking about mirroring in a negative sense, and I think it was for salespeople. I’m not sure if you remember this and I can’t, I can’t quite remember what it was about. Fill me in if you do. But it felt kind of sneaky and dirty and wrong and just kind of trickster-type stuff, and I thought about it in terms of journalism and you know, you don’t want to bait and switch people, which–and we don’t do, but sometimes we get pitches from PR people that are not quite there and they try to sell you a bill of goods. And I think I’ve been able to communicate with people in a way that’s more effective both for them and for myself when it comes to knowing we have a shared goal to have someone on the show, but we want very different things out of it.

Mirroring helps communicate with people in a way that's more effective both for them and for myself. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Megan: So to try to help see that side a little better. I’m not implying that PR people are tricksters, but you know, I’m working from my own frame of reference, which they don’t have and they’re working from their own. So I think it’s helped me open my mind a little bit. But the way that this–I think it was a company that Alan Alda was talking about that was employing these techniques for negative purposes, like try to trick people by mirroring their body language or adopting their emotion so they can feel like they’re being listened to, they’re being heard, or they can relate to you better. And then try to sneak your way in, because I don’t like that at all. But the positive thing I took away from that was try to understand where someone’s coming from and meet them halfway.

Ben: Yeah. No, I would agree. And I do remember that part that you were talking about and it’s interesting because I do some workshops on temperament and what that means in terms of how you interact with people in the workplace. But as part of that, you also learn triggers, which can be very negative for people. And it’s almost like you have to have this, please promise, you’re just going to use this for good because you know now what this certain temperament type, what’s really going to impact them in a negative way. So giving you this information, but we’re trusting you to not be cruel with it in a sense. And there’s a Cialdini book called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasuion, which gets into a lot of this too. And it’s really kind of frightening because it really does talk about how we can be influenced towards certain things and just not have any sense at all.

Ben: And like so when you get into the mirroring and that could be used for that because, “Oh, I’ve had the connection with you now and now I’m listening and buy the brushes or whatever.”

Megan: You’re explaining it much better than I did, but yeah! [Laughing].

Ben: So what else do you find in terms of improv and how that’s, I mean have you thought about it more in the introvert context and around communication? Because you’ve been teaching these classes for a while and I kind of brought this, “Well what if we look at it like this and how that applies?” What do you find now? Are you more aware of how it works towards communication skills?

Megan: Yes, I think I am. I think I’ve learned that as a whole, people have a tendency to go to the know or to ask a question, and maybe you’re working on a project with your colleague, and they have an idea and you’re like, “Well that won’t work because X,” and improv really forces you to think, “Yes, I like your idea and here’s how we can try to make it work.” That’s been really the most beneficial thing for me.

Improv really forces you to think, Yes, I like your idea and here's how we can try to make it work. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah. I’m very good at, “Oh, I know why that won’t work .” and learning…

Megan:  You’re a problem solver, right?

Ben: Yeah. And it’s like, well, I wouldn’t even consider that, but then it’s like, no, I need to step back and that “Yes, and” part’s really important. Well, one for creating that open environment where people trust you and it’s safe for them to express ideas, but also because well I might actually be wrong and I need to hear these ideas out and wow, that was a great idea.

Megan: Absolutely. I’ve noticed how wrong I am in so many ways, [Both Laughing] thanks to improv, but we get in our own heads. We get stuck in our heads, we stop listening and we think our ideas can be the only ideas or the best ones or the right ones. And when you’re in a scene with someone and you have no idea what’s coming your way, you have to trust your scene partner and know that they’re trying to make you look good. That’s one of the biggest lessons I learned at Second City. Make your partner look good. It’s not about you. So if I go into a scene with you, Ben, and my goal is to help you shine and you have the same goal for me, then we’re going to do a great scene because we’re not being judgmental, we’re not being narcissistic, we’re there to support each other.

We get stuck in our heads, we stop listening and we think our ideas can be the only ideas or the best ones or the right ones. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Megan: So I think you can translate a lot of that into a workplace or in social settings. You know, maybe you’re at a coffee shop with your friends, and you notice as an introvert probably would that one person’s not saying too much, or maybe they don’t feel included and you’ll try to create a situation in which you can draw them in, or you know, the next time they say something you “Yes, and’ it in your own non-technical improv way, but you bring them into the conversation. And I think that’s been really helpful for me.

Ben: I think that’s really cool. What suggestions would you have for people who might–for introverts who might want to become leaders or influencers? And I don’t want to cut off the improv conversation if we have more to talk about there, but I’m not sure what the next question would be. So any thoughts?

Megan: I’m kind of curious about your experience with improv and how it’s helped you, because you came to a Brainery class as you said by yourself, didn’t bring Marilyn and you came back and you brought her and now you’re teaching it on your own. So there’s something that must have been really triggering in a positive way for you. Some kind of light bulb moment where you thought, this is really helping me. This is really something that I can latch onto.

Ben: You know, it’s a really interesting question because I don’t know that I’ve stepped back from it enough to really think about why it is I think it’s important. Obviously I do, because I’ve included it in this Introverts and Leadership class and understand the techniques I think to some degree, but it’s why am I gravitating towards it besides watching Whose Line is it Anyway for however many years and that sort of thing and just thoroughly enjoying it. I think I’ve always–even though my temperament type, I think I’m supposed to be more of a planner, but I’m also able to change plans on the fly, and I think the improv is kind of like that also because you don’t know what’s coming next. But I think for me it’s a really tough question. I just don’t feel like I’ve thought it through completely, but I think the “Yes, and” part has been very important for me to understand, especially in leadership positions and you want to have a persona that is supportive of people and not setting an atmosphere where they’re afraid to advance their ideas.

'Yes, and' has been very important for me to understand, especially in leadership positions and you want to have a persona that is supportive of people and not setting an atmosphere where they're afraid to advance their ideas.… Click To Tweet

Ben: And that part’s very important to me. There was another book by Daniel Coyle called The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups and it was about high performing organizations and the cultures they built, and I’ve been part of governance bodies or boards in various organizations where that atmosphere was not there. They kind of hit all of the five dysfunctions of a board or however many of it is very well, and there was a lot of attempt to control around things, and I think I’ve become very sensitized towards that now and understanding that, especially in leadership positions, that I need to make sure that I’m giving everyone an opportunity to speak, to contribute, to feel–to belong really, I think is a large part of it. Now exactly how that translates back to going to improv. I found it–I just thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoy the scenes. I enjoy some of the Goon River, you know, some of the other ones that we’ve talked about where you’re talking about this is the day you died.

Megan: You create a character and all of these characters live in the same town together and they all have happened to have died on the same day and all their deaths are interrelated.

Ben: And those were just so funny. In the session I did the one–second Brainery session I did with you where, I don’t remember what the name of the town was, but where the person next to me actually played–decided I’ll be the horse. It was really eye opening to me. It’s kind of like, “Oh wow, we don’t have to be people characters.” And so I remember when we did the one with the class, I was a flying squirrel.

Megan: I remember that. {laughing].

Ben: Named Rocky, of course, had to be. A flying squirrel, but just how much fun it was thinking about how that interwove with the other stories. You know, is was a kind of dark story, if I remember right, the way that one went.

Megan: I think so [laughing].

Ben: But in general, it’s just a lot of fun. I think I’ve, I like a sense, yes you are making it up as you go along, but you are working with people and you absolutely don’t know where things are going to go. And there’s a lot of freedom to that, because you’re not trying to reach a certain goal. And I think that actually is a big difference for me, because I have so many things that I participate in that are very goal oriented and to be able to just play and have fun and get outside my head in the sense of not thinking about what I’m going to look like once I got past the first time of doing it. And it’s like, “Oh this is no big deal.” But just the freedom of participating in something like that and seeing what kind of story you can build. So I think that’s what was the real hook for me. I’ve always loved it when the, some of the staging around the Whose Line and they would do the newsroom and all of that sort of thing and just how ridiculous it would get.

Improv--the freedom of participating in something like that and seeing what kind of story you can build. @benwoelk Click To Tweet

Ben: I think that’s why I’m really enjoying it and for the class that I’m teaching, working with introverts and helping them understand what that means and that they have strengths, and some of that is introducing them to Cain’s Quiet book and things like that. It’s the first time they’ve read through the things and it’s like you see the light bulbs go on and more importantly than that, you see people who have felt hindered or have felt like they are in some sense of a strong word, “defective” in some sense or just not measuring up to everyone else. And being able to talk with them about what it means to be an introvert and to lead and how to be authentic, which is the other big piece of it. That has been tremendously rewarding and I think the improv work has helped a lot with that also.

Megan: I hear from a lot of first time students, I ask the question, what brought you here? What do you hope to learn? A lot of them say, “I don’t know why I’m here and I’m really scared.” And I say, “Thank you for being here. I hope you have fun. Just focus on having fun. “And at the end of the class I always check back in with people and they’ll say things like, “I didn’t know I could do that.” It’s in you, but because you’re so worried about how you’re perceived or what people could be judging about you, you get in your head. And I think one of the greatest rewards of improv, and this relates back to your class, when I helped with your students. At the end of that three hours or whatever it was, they could say, “I got up in front of people I didn’t know. I was in scenes that I had no idea was coming my way and I succeeded.” So if you can do that, you can get up and give a presentation of information that you’re already comfortable with. If you can do a scene where you’re a flying squirrel and people love it, you can give your next presentation about whatever it is you specialize in.

Improv--I got up in front of people I didn't know. I was in scenes that I had no idea was coming my way and I succeeded. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Ben: Well then I couldn’t figure out how to make the mime thing work, which was the other thing I had thought about. It’s like, “Nah, it’s too hard. We’ll do the flying squirrel.” Maybe one day of the mime. But it’s a very hard role to do for something.

Megan: Yeah. You have to rely on your body language.

Megan: And so yeah, overthinking what the possibilities are with that. So if we were looking at an introvert who wants to be a leader, wants to be an influencer, we’ve talked a lot about the improvisation techniques and I think given what we’ve talked about, there’s tremendous amount of value. I can’t imagine not recommending someone do improv no matter how terrified they are. But what would you see as the top things that an introvert should do who wants to become a leader or influencer?

Megan: I’d say the top thing is just be confident with who you are. And this is something that I’ve struggled with and I’ve come to realize is that you may be in a role that is perceived in a certain way. You are supposed to be this. If you are this, you’re supposed to be very outspoken. If you’re someone that’s on the radio or like that. I’m not, I know a few of my colleagues are not, but they’re good at what they do because they are who they are. So take those innate abilities, be confident in the unique skills that you have, and just “Yes, and” those to use an improv phrase. Just be confident with yourself and try to build your leadership abilities based on that. Because what’s the point of trying to be something you’re not? Then you feel more uncomfortable. You feel–you have impostor syndrome, you get in your head, you freeze up, you clam up and it serves the exact opposite purpose of what you want. So as I mentioned before, when I’m filling in for the host of the show, my job is not to be him. My job is to be me and do the best job I can. So it’s a learning curve. But being open minded, being competent and trusting yourself, those would be my top three.

Just be confident with yourself and try to build your leadership abilities based on that. Because what's the point of trying to be something you're not? Then you feel more uncomfortable. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Introverts as leaders--being open minded, being competent and trusting yourself, those would be my top three. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Ben: And being authentic is a big chunk of it.

Megan: Absolutely. And you mentioned that with scenes to an improv. If you play a character and you’ve never played a flying squirrel before, I’m sure, but you played it very authentically and I believed it and it was great.

Ben: What people don’t know! So in terms of that, and I actually think I pulled this off of your questionnaire, but I’m not sure, what is one thing about you that people would be surprised to know?

Megan: Hmm. I think for people that are not my very close friends might be surprised to know that I struggle a lot with insecurity and that stops me in my tracks multiple times a day. I think that would be, that would be it. Not–not it and there’s nothing else, but that would be the thing, because I’m sure after we finish talking, I’m going to overanalyze everything I said for a couple of hours and it’ll drive me crazy. And I wish that I didn’t have that part of me. But it’s there and it’s something that you try to work through.

Megan: And improv has helped me a lot when I’m really struggling, I turn on my improv brain and the judgy parts of myself go away. So I wish I could draw on that a little more.

Ben: You know, I appreciate you sharing that because I definitely have the insecurities too, and a lot of it has to do with who I’m dealing with and how I feel about that. And I am just as capable of feeling stupid and clumsy and everything else. And I think that is something–things like the improv, just getting out of your head and just doing what you need to do, or trying things and not being afraid to try things, I think is a lot of it and not worrying about failing in that sense. No, I can’t say I’ve mastered that lately either. So Megan, this has been wonderful. I’m glad we’ve had the opportunity to chat and you said overthinking things. I am going to be editing, so I’ll be…

Megan: I have a list of things I want you to remove, so we’ll chat. [Both Laughing]

Ben: Oh, I’ll bet. I’ll bet so. No, this has been a great conversation and I really appreciate you taking the time and very much looking to you on the next improv workshop that we do. Thank you.

Megan: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

 

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