Corner Office Confessions: I’m An Introvert
I remember when I was an intern. As far as I could observe, my boss didn’t do anything. I mean, he got lots of things done. He was an excellent delegator, an amazing leader and a visionary who shaped the organization. But he didn’t actually DO anything. Like, no “real” work. He never wrote a policy or created a spreadsheet or even typed his own correspondence.
What he did, from 8 a.m. until well past 5 every day, was meet with people. He had large group meetings, one-on-one meetings, formal meetings with agendas, informal chats in the hallway, meetings to get information, meetings to give direction, meetings to inspire others, meetings with elected officials, meetings with community groups, meetings with professional associations, meetings with students. He had seminars, symposia, summits, coffee klatches, roundtables, colloquia, consultations, discussions, negotiations… all sorts of meetings.
Years later, when I ascended to the “corner office,” I observed myself doing the same thing. My life is now filled with meetings. When you are “in charge,” lots of people want (expect/need/demand) to see you. To hear from you. To have “just a couple minutes” of your time. When I do get a spare moment to myself, I check e-mail or attend to some bodily function. If I actually need to spend time writing something or reading something or creating something, I have to schedule time on my calendar.
But yet, I still have things I need to do. (I now suspect this was true of my former boss as well.) Not every staff report can be delegated. Not every contract can be explained to someone else before you’ve got a first draft on paper. No matter how talented, dedicated, smart and creative the people are around you, sometimes it’s just easier to do that PowerPoint yourself. Sometimes you observe that you’ve delegated so much that others are stressed and you need to shoulder some of the workload yourself.
And (true confession alert)… sometimes it’s more fun to do the work yourself. Sometimes you need the high of actually crafting something with your own brain. Sometimes it will feel like the most rewarding (perhaps even the only rewarding) thing you’ve done all day. After all, meetings (valuable though they may be) don’t generally offer the same tangible sense of accomplishment. They usually result in action only much later and via circuitous routes. And I am not the most patient person.
Even more than the sense of accomplishment, I think I feel rewarded by writing my own staff reports because of my personality. I am a strong introvert. People who’ve met me in social situations are always incredulous when I say that, because I have learned how to project myself in meetings. But those who are closest to me will testify to the truth of this statement. They understand that those social situations are incredibly draining for me, and I need some time alone with my thoughts to rejuvenate.
I worried about this a lot when I was considering becoming a CAO. At a speed coaching event, I expressed to a City Manager my fear of all the social requirements of the job. He confessed that it wasn’t his favorite part of the job, either. He said his solution was to hire an Assistant who loved those types of events. He went to the ones he couldn’t avoid, and she attended the rest.
I thought about all this last night as I was leaving the office. There were three things left undone in my in-basket, because I had been working late on an agreement I’d promised to get to a peer in a neighboring county. And why had I been working on that so late? After all, I’d had two meetings cancel earlier in the day and I had blocked some time to work on this particular agreement. I should have had time to attend to it earlier. The major reason I didn’t get to it was that I was engrossed in composing another report – one with no particular deadline but which had captured my attention due to its challenging subject matter.
In fact, I realized that the only reasons I headed home when I did were hunger and my desire not to miss Celebrity Name Game. I clearly could have stayed at the office for another hour – blissful in my solitude – and finished up those other three items. I worry about this. Is the staff missing out on opportunities for learning and growth because I worked on this report myself? Am I setting a really bad example of work/life balance? (I’m pretty sure the answer to that one is yes.) Is my introverted nature a hindrance in the profession? Eh, who cares – sometimes it’s fun to just DO something!