Thriving As An Introvert: Shaundra Warren of Sharonview Federal Credit Union On How Introverts Can Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts
We must balance thought and action. We have to balance taking the time to think things over while also giving ourselves permission to act — and speak up — in the moment. It’s a disadvantage if you become an overthinker and have analysis paralysis, right? You can limit your — and your team’s — ability to move forward. Striking a balance between thought and action is important.
In a world that often rewards outspokenness and social networking, introverts can sometimes feel sidelined or overlooked. The workplace, educational institutions, and even social settings can often seem engineered to suit the strengths of extroverts, leaving introverts searching for a space to flourish.
However, introversion comes with its own set of unique strengths — deep thinking, the ability to focus, empathy, and keen observational skills — that are invaluable but often underestimated. The question then becomes: how can introverts not only survive but also thrive and succeed in environments that seem skewed towards extroversion? In this interview series, we are talking to introverts, business leaders, psychologists, authors, career coaches, organizational leaders, and other experts in the field who can talk about “How Introverts Can Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts”. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Shaundra Warren.
Shaundra Warren is a quiet leader and self-proclaimed introvert who appreciates being “seen” by fellow quiet leaders. There are advantages to being an introverted leader, especially in her role assessing risk as Chief Strategy and Risk Officer for Sharonview Federal Credit Union. She believes it takes all kinds of leaders in the workplace — including watchful, pensive, quiet ones like her.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Sure. Let me start with how I came to Sharonview Federal Credit Union. I started here six years ago in the loss mitigation area as an assistant vice president and worked my way through the organization. I absolutely love what I do, which is surprising because it’s not something I ever thought I wanted to do when I was younger. Of course, back then I didn’t know about “change management” and “loss mitigation” or that they were possible career paths.
I really feel like I’ve found my space, and when I consider the different responsibilities in the organizations that fall under my purview — business transformation, change management, loss mitigation, member (which is how credit unions refer to our customers) experience, marketing — I feel it was largely my ability to “connect the dots” that got me here. And connecting the dots is something many introverts excel at.
I’m a sports mom. I spend a lot of my free time at the gym watching my daughters play basketball. And it’s a perfect role for me because, as a kid, I wanted to be a sports agent. I felt like there was a gap between the talent and management that I could help fill. In my work today, I’m always looking for where the gaps exist and figuring out how to close them.
It’s funny, but I do see some similarities between what I do now and what I wanted to do when I was growing up. I started out in loss mitigation, which is a vital support function. It’s a function that helps lenders and borrowers avoid a loss. And neither side wants a loss, right? We’re not working at cross purposes. We’re both working toward the same goal. It’s the same with an athlete and his or her agent. Both are working for the ultimate success of the athlete.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do professionally, and what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve been in financial services my entire career. I was a division manager for a financial services organization in Buffalo — my hometown — for eight years, and I’ve also been a consultant in the debt recovery space.
Now, as Chief Strategy and Risk Officer for Sharonview, I oversee those functions I mentioned — enterprise risk management, change and project management, business transformation, loss mitigation, our member experience center — or what banks would call a contact center — and marketing. It’s a lot. I’m lucky to have some phenomenal leaders in those spaces who allow me to oversee so much for the organization.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Thriving As An Introvert. In order to make sure that we are all on the same page, let’s begin with a simple definition. What does “Introvert” mean to you?
To me, an introvert is an internal thinker and internal processor. Introverts don’t usually “think out loud.” We gain energy and confidence from an internal space versus an external one.
Some people equate introversion with shyness, but they’re not the same. Introverts can be very friendly. We can be talkative. But we require alone time to recharge our batteries. I’m exhausted if I have to navigate a big room at a conference or social event. I need to find a quiet place to sort of recover from that.
Like most introverts, I’m internally motivated. I work hard because I’m driven to — not because I’m seeking external recognition — although, I admit, it’s nice to have that, too.
Can you help articulate a few of the challenges that come with being an introvert?
I think most of the world, or at least our country, is built for extroverts. Introverts are in the minority. I’ve seen figures that put the number of introverts in America in the range of 25 to 35 percent. As a student on the first day of school, when the teacher says class participation will be part of your grade, introverts are already at a disadvantage. So, there are plenty of challenges that accompany being an introvert.
Overthinking is a huge one. Because we process information internally, we don’t really give ourselves guardrails. Our thoughts can go all over the place and almost take control. But overthinking has both pros and cons. I know because, of course, I’ve overthought it.
Sometimes we introverts show up at a meeting having thought about everything, and it really helps the group discussion — especially if it’s about something big. But sometimes, when the task is small and just requires decisive action, we can go too far and miss the essence of what needs to be done. Not everything we do requires us to analyze, ponder, weigh the pros and cons. Sometimes, you just need to make the decision and move on.
Very similar to overthinking is finding the balance between having a well-thought-out idea and engaging in the moment. Sometimes I’m in a meeting and a new topic comes up, and my brain goes right to all the possible options and outcomes, the “what ifs?” and who would be impacted if we did such and such. All that thinking can mean I miss the opportunity to engage in a conversation in real time. So, I’ve figured out how to balance my thoughts and what I say out loud.
When I started at Sharonview, I found myself overwhelmed in meetings during which extroverts would be talking it out. It was hard to find my voice in that conversation. But then one of my fellow leaders at the time, Ricky Otey — a fellow introvert who’s now president and CEO of Partners Federal Credit Union, the Disney credit union — shared with me how important it is to find a way to get your voice out there. He advised me — and this was such a gift! — to give myself permission to share what might not be a fully formed thought.
That’s a matter of saying, “Here’s what my thinking is in this moment.” It’s a caveat that lets people know: “I haven’t landed the plane yet but right now, at 2:15 p.m. Eastern time, this is what I think. My thinking may evolve, but this is where I am in this moment.”
Introverts may be afraid to just put something out there because we think: What if I don’t feel this way 30 seconds from now? Saying that before you share your thoughts gives you — the introvert — permission to communicate without having to have a complete plan or final answer. It allows us the ability to be in the moment rather than waiting it out and being the very last person to speak — or worse, not speaking at all. It also gives people around you the understanding that you’re fully present in the moment — but you haven’t landed yet. You’re still considering the issue.
Using statements like that gives me permission to play at the speed of the rest of the room.
I’m sure that being an introvert also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that introverts have?
Oh, yes. We think before we speak, and that’s a good thing. Introverts don’t generally regret what we say because we’ve considered how it will land and how it might be interpreted. That’s a big advantage in business, as well as in our personal lives.
Introverts are usually self-aware and emotionally intelligent, which is not to say extroverts can’t also be those things, too. Being an introverted thinker often means we think about how our words might make other people feel. We look for and pick up on nuances, emotions, changes in body language, nonverbal cues. We’re always trying to connect the dots, looking for meaning.
Self-awareness helps us figure out how to play well with others — just as we were taught in kindergarten. In the executive space, understanding your strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the people around you, are huge qualities. At the C-suite level, I think one of the best qualities one can have is emotional intelligence.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being an introvert? Can you explain what you mean?
I think it’s a myth that introversion is a weakness. I think it’s my superpower.
Extroverts often have charisma — an ability to draw people to them. Introverts have an ability to read the room. We understand why people are drawn to the charismatic extrovert.
I joke about this with my staff. With most superheroes, you don’t know what their skill set is because they don’t announce it. They demonstrate it quietly and without fanfare and don’t stick around long enough to take credit. If you don’t wear a cape — if you don’t toot your own horn, so to speak — no one realizes you’re a superhero.
Introverts have an uncanny ability to understand people and what makes them tick, to see cause and effect, and to develop and deliver comprehensive plans, processes and procedures.
Do you have any role models who are also introverts? What have you learned from them that can help introverts navigate the challenges and benefits of introversion?
As I mentioned, Ricky Otey is an introvert who’s been a wonderful mentor. He’s an introvert who also has charisma. People would joke sometimes that you could tell when Ricky’s social battery was depleted because he would quietly make his exit, and no one would know he was gone or where he went. He knew himself well enough to know when he needed to recharge.
When I think about introverts who’ve been successful in business, Michael Jordan comes immediately to my mind. So do Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg. All these individuals show up in the introvert category — and just think about their impact on society. I mean, these are people who’ve changed the world.
Michael Jordan, who my girls know mostly through Air Jordan sneakers, was a leader on the basketball court before he was a leader in business. He’s the former owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, and when I took my girls to a Hornets game, we were coming down the elevator, and it opens and there stands Michael Jordan. The entire elevator freaks out.
And he was so gracious. I think he was charmed by the fact that these small children who’ve probably never seen him in an actual game knew exactly who he was. Every professional athlete should aspire to stay relevant, as he has, after they retire from sports. Jordan is still contributing and making a difference. But he does it quietly. He lets his actions speak for him — the consummate introvert.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the “Five Things Introverts Need To Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
1. We must balance thought and action. We have to balance taking the time to think things over while also giving ourselves permission to act — and speak up — in the moment. It’s a disadvantage if you become an overthinker and have analysis paralysis, right? You can limit your — and your team’s — ability to move forward. Striking a balance between thought and action is important.
2. Next: Lean in. Most introverts are in their comfort zone when they’re alone. But as an executive, I find I don’t have the luxury of being alone very often at work. So, leaning into the conversation, leaning into the interaction in the room, and using your social battery in the moment can all help you deliver for your team and your organization.
3. Continue to connect authentically. It’s a challenge for introverts to build relationships on a surface level. Small talk is not our forte. We seek deep relationships. But to get to those deep relationships, you’ve got to do the initial engagement, which is often hard for us.
Start by connecting with people who have similar interests. Look for common ground if it’s not immediately evident. Look for ways to connect authentically and forge deeper relationships versus the typical, “Hey, how was your weekend? How was your day?” That small talk feels really unnatural to introverts. We crave deep conversations and meaningful relationships.
4. Be the catalyst. That’s literally part of my LinkedIn bio — I call myself a “strategic catalyst.” By that, I mean that since introverts — internal processers — have often thought about (and overthought) everything, we may have answers and solutions others don’t. We can be the catalysts to create an environment to bring all those pieces together — all the thoughts, actions, people and processes. We can really stand in the gap to connect the dots early. Introverts are often in a position to be changemakers.
5. Lastly, find your space. I feel like introverts often shy away from the spotlight, and that’s OK. There are people who thrive in the spotlight, and I’m happy to allow them to shine.
You may have to decide: Do you want to be the king or the kingmaker? Where do you want to be? Do you want to be the face and voice of your organization? Or are you more comfortable helping other people see the value in themselves and making themselves better? And whichever one you choose — or some combination of the two — lean into that. Finding the space where you’re comfortable and where you can thrive is key.
If you’re a manager in your organization, it’s also important for you to help your team members find their space. Introverts are adept at looking at and studying people, intuiting where they fall on the Myers-Briggs introversion/extroversion scale and helping them play to their strengths and work on any deficits. Leaders have to create a space where everyone — especially introverts — feels safe to share.
Ricky Otey gave me a book called “Leading Out Loud: A Guide to Engaging Others in Creating the Future,” by Terry Pearce. The author writes about connecting, the importance of storytelling, and how to be a leader when you’re an introvert.
I’ve promoted two individuals on my team who are introverted, and when I did, I shared that book with them, too. It really helped me understand that quiet leadership, calm leadership, and thoughtful leadership have a place in business. An important one. The book gives good examples of how we can connect through stories and shared experiences. I think it’s essential reading for leaders and emerging leaders in any organization.
How should an introvert navigate social relationships and networking, activities that are often touted as extroverts’ forte? Do you have any advice for introverts in these areas?
I think it goes back to connecting through shared experiences and stories. When someone’s new to your organization or any group you’re in, you don’t yet know their story. You don’t know what experiences you might share. But you can start by assuming there are some — and setting out to discover what they are.
Once you find common ground, barriers start to fall. Initiating a conversation with someone we don’t know can fill an introvert with dread. Building relationships through shared stories, experiences and sentiments really helps us engage and feel connected.
Introverts are at an early disadvantage when we have to be in a big, crowded room at a meet-and-mingle event. I absolutely hate it. And I will tell you that I don’t think it’s something I’ve mastered on my own. If you feel, as I do, that successful people didn’t just become successful on their own — that they had help from bosses, mentors and teammates — then you can start to see how others can help you navigate that big, daunting room.
I’ve forged connections with business partners in the organization, including our chief digital and information officer. He’s phenomenally extroverted. He’s the life of every party, and he’s become my trusted wingman at big company and industry events. When we’re together, he’s out there meeting people, introducing himself, making those connections, being his outgoing best self. And I’m able to gradually find my space in that room, at that event because, without even trying, he eases me into it.
I wouldn’t say networking is something I’ve mastered, but I’ve definitely figured out how to connect to people who do it well. So, find yourself a wingman. It’s either that or find yourself ducking into the restroom as a respite from the crowd.
Isn’t it interesting how many times introverts find ourselves in the restroom at big social and business events? It’s a quiet place to recharge the battery for a few minutes. But no one should spend too much time holed up in there. It’s much better to meet people and look for what you have in common.
What are some practical tips you can offer to introverts who want to succeed in the workplace, which is often geared towards extroverted behaviors?
I come back to the importance of finding your space. Once people understand your superpower, you become a huge asset to the organization. When people see all the thought behind what you say, they start to listen.
For me, it’s been about figuring out how to connect with people and then forging deeper relationships over time.
Have you noticed any specific ways that being an introvert affects mental health or overall well-being? Any tips for introverts to maintain good mental health?
Oh, yes. I think every introvert has been in a situation where we overthink to the point we’re just stuck. I have been. But then I began to compare “the moment” — the presentation, the big event, what have you — to how long it took me to get there.
For instance, the first time I had to present a department plan to our CEO, I worked on that plan and rehearsed my presentation for so long. Maybe too long. I memorized the whole thing. I could recite it in my sleep. And, as prepared as I was, I still felt so much anxiety. I couldn’t sleep for days leading up to that big moment.
And in the moment, I felt good about my work. It felt so easy and almost effortless. The CEO was easygoing. The people in the room were gracious and encouraging. I began to ask myself why I’d made such a big deal of this. And I realized after several more presentations that the moment is far less scary than what we build it up to be.
Eventually, I developed the ability to coach myself out of my own overthinking and to avoid the anxiety that goes with it. When I compared the moment to the amount of brain space and time it took to get to the moment, I realized what a huge imbalance there was. I’ve worked hard to restore balance to the preparation/presentation equation. I try to match my preparation efforts to whatever it is I’m preparing for.
Now, I sleep much better the night before a big presentation. I give myself time to consider: Do I know the content? Am I comfortable with the material? Have I anticipated the questions people are likely to ask, and do I know how to answer them? Am I missing anything? Those are my checks and balances after going through a presentation one last time the night before. If I can answer “yes” to all those questions, I’m going to bed.
In your opinion, are societal views on introversion changing? If so, how do you think this impacts introverts positively or negatively? Can you please explain what you mean?
Interesting question. When you think about Michael Jordan, Zuckerberg and Spielberg — those famous introverts — I don’t think most people label them as introverts.
But as more companies embrace DE&I — diversity, equity and inclusion — I think that’s chipping away at old beliefs about introverts. For me and at Sharonview, we don’t just think of diversity as being about race, gender, and sexual orientation. There’s also diversity in geography, socioeconomic backgrounds, personality traits, and ways of thinking. Diversity of thought is huge.
As more people see that introversion is a superpower, the more they will understand, and maybe even celebrate, introverts. Society may be coming around when it comes to introversion. But introverts have more work to do — we usually do — to get the rest of the world to see our full value.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Never assume quiet is weak and loud is strong.” It’s not known who said this, but it resonates with me.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I love that question. I just had a conversation the other day related to this. I was talking to an individual who has very different thoughts about the world and politics from my own. And I said: You know, just simply having conversations with people who don’t look like you, act like you, think like you leads to finding commonalities you might not have suspected existed. When we connect with people outside our social circles or outside our own belief systems — when we break bread with people who are our polar opposite — we inevitably find similarities.
This person and I were sharing stories — there’s that technique again — about our childhoods and how we were parented, and we discovered there were lots of similarities in how we were raised. For instance, both sets of parents were big on making us eat everything on our plates at dinner — whether we liked it or not.
That wasn’t just a thing among Black parents or among white parents or Asian parents. It was true for so many of us of a certain generation. Hearing stories about this other person’s mom made me nod and think: She sounds just like my mom.
Just because someone looks different and has a different cultural background doesn’t make them “the other.” We are more alike than we are different. So, the movement I’d start would be to encourage people to spend time with people from other cultures, backgrounds, and political belief systems. And pay attention to the similarities.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
LinkedIn. Well, I’ll say LinkedIn for now. I was doing a photo shoot a while back and was joking with people in the room about how they ought to “book me before the book deal.”
Of course, there is no book deal, and there is no book. Yet. But I may have a book inside me that wants to come out. And here’s why:
I have five children. I was a teen mom. And I’ve had some challenges as a result of becoming a mom so young. Most people have a hard time believing that someone who was a teen mom ended up where I am. My memoir would chronicle how I’ve navigated the challenges life has thrown at me.
Being a mom — and especially a mom of five — requires you to multitask. My oldest is 25; my youngest is 6. And I also have a 21-year-old, a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old. There’s never a dull moment at home, but when I show up at work, I delegate, I multitask, I’m able to communicate on different topics to different audiences. I’m able to take in tons of information at once and prioritize and manage and plan and all those things I’ve honed because I’m a parent of five.
At work, I always encourage people to figure out the skillsets they possess that they might need even recognize. And if you’re a mom, I can almost guarantee you’re good at delegating and at managing chaos.
Maybe I’ll even include a chapter on how being an introvert is a secret superpower.
I’d really love to connect with your readers. I’d love to hear from other introverts about how they navigate the workplace. Until that book becomes a reality, you can find me on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/shaundra-warren.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thriving As An Introvert: Shaundra Warren of Sharonview Federal Credit Union On How Introverts Can… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.