The first time I knocked on a potential member's door in Columbus, Ohio, I was terrified. Same with my first TV interview.
I did what I had to do to take care of business, but that didn't mean it came easily or naturally. I'm a shy person and an introvert. Never in my earliest or wildest career dreams did I imagine starring in TV commercials, speaking in front of thousands of people or helping lead more than 1,000 employees.
Eighteen years into Angie's List's journey to becoming a national consumer-services review company with 2 million paid household members, I still have the same temperament I did when I started out. But I've learned a lot about facing fear, doing the next right thing and accepting the style that is natural to me.
I know now that a leader doesn't have to be an extrovert. But it took some time for me to figure out what kind of manager I was going to be. I wasn't a commanding person. I wasn't charismatic. Those are traits you often see in leaders, but not all. For me, managing and leading meant doing so by example. I'd say to my team, "I'm going to show you exactly how I do it. I'm going to stand right beside you and we're going to do it together."
Taking a teaching approach helped me find my way as an unflashy leader. Through the years, I've come to appreciate other ways a quiet or shy person can make the most of his or her style:
• Understand your purpose. Being clear about the business reasons underlying your need to expand your comfort zone can be a motivator. I never did lose the knots in the stomach I had in front of each door I knocked on in 1995. Fortunately, individual solicitation turned out to be an inefficient way to grow Angie's List. But when I first started, it was one of the few tools I had. So I did what was necessary for the business. Same with TV interviews, which, while scary at first, were something I made myself do because they allowed me to reach many people at one time.
• Do the worst first, and set a timer. Because door knocking was so uncomfortable for me, I would establish a daily numeric or time goal. Cold calling was equally challenging, so I would do it first thing in the morning. With that out of the way, I'd let myself move on to easier tasks or duties I enjoyed more.
• Do your homework. Get the information you need to build confidence about taking an uncomfortable action, whether it's speaking at a business meeting or at a conference of thousands. I tend to be the number geek in the room, so I make sure to get the data and details I need in advance of making a speech or statement.
Ultimately, effective management and leadership is less a matter of temperament and more a reflection of the principles you follow that let your strengths shine.