Being quiet on a leadership program feels like it should be oxymoron with the way people often think about how leaders should act and behave. Accepting and embracing my introversion has been a lifelong struggle for me as schools and workplaces are built for places for extraverts to thrive with their emphasis on group work. The struggle is amplified with being a woman, where there is a long tradition and often unconscious expectation of women accommodating their behavior to fit men’s desires. As a result, women are caught in a double bind in leadership settings. If they are too outspoken, they are accused of being bossy micro-managers. If they are softer spoken and reserved, they are criticized for not smiling and participating enough. While I have definitely been in groups where I have had the anxiety of being seen as a bossy micro manger, on this trip, I have been pretty insecure about my introversion which I have also noticed has marked a drop in the confidence I felt before coming on the trip.
What is often misconstrued about being soft spoken and introverted is that it equals a lack of opinions. I would consider myself a very principled and opinionated person and one of the things I grew to do on the trek is inserting my unique voice into decision making processes, debriefs, and feedback sessions. I still think I think I have room to grow in this regard and retrospectively, there are some issues I perceived that I still have left unaddressed. This is not entirely due to fear of being judged; instead, if I feel I have not had time to fully articulate my thoughts on a subject, I avoid saying it to a large group of people. One thing I know about myself is that you will not catch me saying something I do not believe and with that may come more silence that what people are comfortable with. To put it crassly, I am not a bullshitter. With all these initial reflections in mind, I have come to realize that valuing deep experiences, thinking before acting, and avoiding the center of attention are all characteristics that are a part of my leadership style.
I began to recognize the power I have in being someone who values independent reflection when one of my instructors, Gauruv, gave me my Hindi trail nickname, Chhipkallee. I was a little confused as to why I was named “Lizard,” but he explained that Chippkallee meant lizard “but with more charisma.” Gauruv elaborated, saying that Chippkallee means someone “who is small but does things that you couldn’t even imagine they could do.” Since I’m introspective in nature, I couldn’t resist digging more into the name as soon as I got access to WIFi. . With a quick google search, I learned that Chaloo Chipkalee is the name of a poem by John Mason. In the poem, the lizard — the chhipkallee — is described as “crafty,” creeping around the house “watching you without a blink” on your ceilings, in your drawers, and in your shoes. The chhipkallee moves freely and if you try to kill her, she’ll slip away “to rise again another day.”
Similar to a small house lizard that’s quietly always lurking, being an introvert comes with being observant which I believe also makes me a very perceptive and intuitive person. This allows me to easily recognize the bigger picture of individual behavior and understand the inner workings of group dynamics. What I learned on the trek is that being such a person also leads to being somewhat of a contrarian as I often found myself seeing things differently from others in the group. It’s daunting at first to build up the courage to counteract the status quo with your different perspective, but I soon recognized that vocalizing how I truly felt made my impact on the group and that having a blunt, honest perspective is necessary for teams to improve. When I was able to find my voice, I found that I ended up the one who vocalized how many people truly felt but were hesitant to say out loud for fear of group rejection.
Something that was frustrating for me on the trek was how much people focused on the positives. I’m not saying that we should have been focusing on the negatives, but it felt like there were some realities in the group dynamics that were glossed over with superficial musings. During my team feedback session, I broke the bubble of positivity and came clean about how I had been struggling with a sense of belonging since coming to India due to the lack of deep connections I felt with the people around me. I felt that the dynamics could change if we would all be able to recognize all our emotions – the good and the bad – through different activities during our debrief sessions and introduced Rose, Bud, Thorn to the group which struck around for the rest of the trek. During my second individual check-in five days later, my instructor told me that every single person he had talked to before me had been feeling the same way, but I was the first to say it to a group of people.
In the same individual check-in, I also expressed how instead of leaving more confident, I actually felt I was leaving the trek more insecure. He was disappointed because that is not how the program is supposed to be structured but he showed how I can turn my feelings around to show strength. This conversation solidified that my leadership style is not one that is loudly spoken but one that is shown through thoughtful and intentional actions. Being someone of a few words means that what I say and do carries immense weight which earns the respect of others even if I am not the loudest in the room. In the future, I hope to learn how to trust my perspective so that I can bring its value to my peers earlier.