Part 5: Quiet – The Best Leaders – a GHC 2016 Lecture by Susan Cain

Continued from Part 4: Quiet – Rescue Creativity and Reduce Groupthink

Cain provided meeting tips for introverts:

1) Speak up early and often.  Be the first or second person to speak.  First or second speakers become an emotional anchor.  People will direct their energy and attention to you and what you said.  The opposite happens when you wait; your statements tend to get marginalized.

2) There is a show called “Curb Your Enthusiasm”.  Introverts, don’t curb yours!  Cain provided a personal example to illustrate this point.  She gave an imitation of her husband’s reaction when her book, “Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Doesn’t Stop Talking” made the New York Times’ bestsellers list.  His reaction was over-the-top, happy, excited, bouncy and spouting delighted cheers.  Cain said to us, “I’m happy too.  I mean, it’s my book; I wrote it!  However, as an introvert, my reaction is calmer, more like ‘Great!’”  Cain explained that openly discussing these differences can avert misunderstandings that would otherwise occur.  For example, she will deliberately be over-the-top happy when her husband has a similar triumph, so that he doesn’t interpret her more muted version as disinterest and lack of caring.

3) Extroverts, curb yours.  Over-exuberance can overwhelm the introverts in your meeting and prevent them from contributing.  Sheryl Sandberg had a coach who would help her speak less during meetings so that she could benefit from her staff’s valuable input.

4) Engage introverts 1-on-1 and give them time to prepare for the meeting.  “We need time to process the agenda and our responses!” Cain stated.

Cain quoted the management bible, “From Good to Great” by Jim Collins.  Collins states that the best leaders are often quiet, modest, shy, unassuming and soft-spoken.  They want to go deep into 1-3 areas of passion.  They don’t usually want to be a leader just to be a leader.  They end up becoming a leader unintentionally because of their service to this passion.  Cain cited some compelling leaders that fit this description:

  • Beth Comstock, VP of General Electric.  Comstock is curious and explores areas outside of her comfort zone.
  • Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company.  He is a shy man who found a unique way of connecting with his employees.  He would hand-write personal letters of thanks to the employees who went above and beyond the call of duty.  This resonates with me because I recently sent a hand-written letter to a friend, feeling a sense of longing for the nostalgic practice.  It was definitely more satisfying than sending yet another email!  I also liked Doug because in his picture, his study was lined with tall bookshelves housing thousands of books.  He followed the Randy Pausch practice of keeping one item on his clean desk (the letter he was writing) and he wore a shy, kind, almost surprised, humble sort of smile.
  • Mahatma Gandhi.  A shy child who found the social interaction of school intimidating, this remarkable human being would eventually lead his entire nation to freedom.  Albert Einstein said of Gandhi, “Future generations will scarce believe that one such as this walked the Earth.”

These leaders’ styles have a curious potency about them.  People can feel that a leader is present amongst them.  “They almost seem to have no choice,” Cain said.  “They lead because they are so committed to their cause.”

“I’ve presented you with a lot of data,” Cain summarized.  “Now, what do we do with it?”

To be continued …

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