Being relatively new to the third sector, I don’t know anything that isn’t a sector operating beneath a big, dark cloud of recession, budget cuts, welfare reform and all-round expectations to do more with less. Many organisations are facing uncertainties, restructures and redundancies, with resources apparently at an all-time low. It’s not always a cheerful time.
One thing that fuels my desire to pursue a career in charity is the demonstrable passion of my peers and colleagues. Whatever socioeconomic climate we find ourselves in, the sector is full of people who genuinely want to make positive social change. It occurs to me that, actually, our most valuable resource is our people; from our community volunteers to our not-too-badly-paid chief executives, it’s those people who genuinely care for the cause, those people who fight for a better tomorrow despite adversity and austerity, who give me reassurance that we are a powerful sector which can and will continue to do great things.
In other words, I am inspired by the sunray of passion, innovation and motivation of others that breaks through the dark and gloomy cloud we hear so much about. I find it exciting, and I know that it’s something that I want to be a part of.
However, as a self-confessed introvert, I have often worried that I don’t really have what it takes to make any real contribution. How can I demonstrate my own passion and inspire others when I physically shake at the thought of public speaking? How can I stand out in meetings when I like to really think about things before I form an opinion or an idea? How can I make good contacts with other professionals when I find most “networking opportunities” incredibly unnatural and awkward?
If you can relate to any of that, then like me, your career development goals may be focussed around confidence building. This is certainly not a bad thing; combined with competence, an element of confidence is pivotal to anyone who wishes to become a leader in the third sector. If you can’t demonstrate some confidence in your own abilities, you may well be hiding your true capabilities, thwarting yourself from reaching your potential within the sector. A lack of confidence in itself can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But I think it can be all-to-easy for introverts to give themselves a hard time over the skills they lack in a world that seems to reward extroversion. As well as looking to develop those confidence-based skills, introverts should embrace and optimise the other skills which come as part and parcel of their mind-set. Introversion is associated with thoughtfulness, by which I mean an ability to consider situations, challenges and opportunities in great depth before forming judgements, opinions and ideas. A tendency to not have knee-jerk reactions or make ill-thought-through decisions is of real value in a sector full of challenges to be faced and problems to be solved. Introverts may find it easier to articulate their ideas in writing.
This puts them in a great position to utilise tools such as social media which can be key in engaging with stakeholders, influencing others and challenging the status quo. Introverts may be quiet and softly spoken, but they are often very good listeners who are appreciative of the fact that different people work in different ways. As such, they can make effective and understanding leaders, giving colleagues the time and space for creative innovation. And a well-prepared introvert can be a real asset in keeping meetings short and to the point!
Wherever you fit on the introvert/extrovert scale, as long as you’re passionate about creating positive social change, you absolutely have something to bring to the sector. By all means, aim to develop your weaknesses, but it’s just as important to embrace and harness the strengths that result from your natural temperament. It may feel as though the workplace is geared towards charismatic and outgoing professionals, but if you really look around and observe the successful people you know in the sector, I’ll bet that a fair number are introverts themselves, despite their well-developed confidence and public speaking skills. After all, it’s thought that 1/3 of the population are introverted – we are not a rare breed.
If my inclination is correct that, in times of austerity, adversity, doom and gloom, it is our passionate people who are our biggest resource, then there is definitely a place for you the sector. I’ll leave you with this TED talk by Susan Cain – an introvert who explains perfectly not only what it means to be an introvert, but also why it isn’t something that should hold anyone back. You know what they say – ‘it’s always the quiet ones’ – so own it!