The Introverted Fit Leader
by Dr. Victorene King
If you’ve ever seen an ant farm, then you have a sense for what it probably looks like to be inside my head. The farm appears messy and disorganized with routes moving in every direction. And yet there’s intentionality and purpose in the ant’s seemingly silent, orchestrated movements. The ideas in my head often feel like they’re traveling the same chaotic routes of the ant farm and are coming at me just as hurriedly as those ants racing along the paths. In order for me to make sense of it all, I daily need time on my own.
I don’t feel alone when I’m with all of my thoughts. And yet sometimes, my ideas can become a silent roar in need of an outlet. Exercise is that outlet. The solitude during a long run at a leisurely pace or the exhilaration from quickening my pace during a speed training provides focus. The deep mental and physical relaxation experienced during yoga or muscle-trembling exertion during a power-lifting day affords me clarity. I’ve found that exercise gives my mind something to focus on while also providing me the space to shape my ideas in a way that can be shared with others. I’ve also learned that I need this time to prepare myself for both the human interaction associated with sharing and collaborating on ideas and to ensure there is purpose during the ideation process.
I’m an introvert. As I’ve grown in my personal and emotional maturity, I’ve become very comfortable and confident with my introversion. I don’t need to be involved in every project at work to know I bring value. I don’t fear that I’m missing out when others are participating in activities that I wasn’t invited into, or elected not to engage in like I used to. I’ve done a great deal of work around learning to love this part of me because sometimes being an introvert gets a bad reputation, which misled me to believe that only extroverts could be leaders, or at the very least, extroverted people made better leaders.
I’m also a leader. Leadership comes as natural to me as my introversion, though not without the same form of careful and deliberate training I give myself over to when I exercise. In this area as well I’ve trained to develop and hone my overall leadership through participation in various professional organizations and universities who provide me focus and from mentors and friends who have helped model the way and bring clarity. I’ve gained the wisdom to understand that in order for me to bring the best version of my leadership into every situation, I need to lean into the truths about my introversion. If I’m going to be engaged in the day to day politics, emotional demands, and social obligations of leadership, I know I’ll need to make sure I have time to recharge afterwards. Doing things that meet my physical, emotional, and mental health help me recharge.
There’s a myth in leadership that it's lonely at the top, and there’s another myth suggesting that introverts don’t like people. But the truth is: There are ways for all leaders to stay connected; the successful ones find ways to make those connections a priority. To the same degree, introverts also need meaningful connections with a few trusted people to stay emotionally and mentally recharged. As a leader, I’ve had to learn to leverage these relationships to further the activities I’m passionate about because these trusted friendships usually find just as much enjoyment and fulfillment from them as I do, which is probably why we were drawn to one another in the first place. Whether it’s fitness, personal and emotional growth, social justice, or educational policies, I’ve learned that I don’t need to be in the spot-light at all times to further those causes. I can recognize other Fit Leaders when they take their wellness to another level, or encourage a friend who is stepping into the challenging work of personal growth, or celebrate the dedication of advocates and educators for their daily fight for equity.I’m the type of person who “thinks to speak '' rather than those who “speaks to think”. This is as much a part of my introversion as my leadership style. The thoughts in my head racing around like ants in their farm often require me to give myself the time to process. Most times, that’s alone doing some form of physical fitness. Other times, it’s with a small group of trusted friends in an activity we find mutually engaging, uplifting, or motivating. Regular engagement with the Fit Leaders community provides me with an outlet that emcompasses all of the ways I need to rejuvenate as an introvert and as a leader.