Soft But Potent Power

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking

I am loving this book. Author, Susan Cain, discusses how much we lose in undervaluing introverts…how well known figures like Eleanor Roosevelt, Warren Buffet and Gandhi, achieved what they did, not in spite of but because of their introversion. This book: Quiet, is so worth a read, even if you’re not an introvert. It’ll help you understand ‘the other side’ better and develop stronger relationships, both personal and in the business realm. Some studies say one out of every two or three people is an introvert. So I’m sure you know a few.

Cain chronicles the rise of the extrovert ideal in the 20th century and its extreme impact on our current society; how it has shifted from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality. “Introversion—along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is now a second-class personality trait…”

Talkers are often perceived as smarter. Yet, “…there’s zero correlation between the gift of gab and good ideas.”

Stay with me. I’m going somewhere with this…and it’s not to bash the extreme extrovert over the head. I believe we need both extroverts and introverts. Two halves to a whole. But one shouldn’t be made to feel ‘less’ than the other.

Cain’s stories of successful, introvert leaders were especially interesting to me. She makes a very good point about needing to delineate between good presentation skills and true leadership ability. Common traits used to describe some highly successful leaders were: quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, understated. Not the traits that first come to mind when you think of CEOs, are they? So, how do they manage? Cain and those she interviewed argue these introverted leaders build not their own egos, but the institutions they run. They are interested in listening and gathering information more than asserting opinion or dominating a conversation. They truly build their team.

Where Soft Power Comes In

My favorite part (at least so far, since I haven’t finished the book yet) refers to how introverts might not like the spotlight or speaking in public, but they will push themselves to endure it because a cause matters that much to them. Their strength lies in their ideas and heart. They…”rally people to their cause through conviction rather than dynamism.” They change lives by their caring. Their strength comes from substance. They focus. They carry on without getting sidetracked. They have quiet persistence. In particular, it makes me  wonder how many non-profits are run by introverts.

What have you felt so strongly about that it forced you out of your comfort zone? Or have you felt because you’re more a quiet type, you didn’t have anything to offer? Let’s just dispel that right now, shall we?

Check out Susan Cain speaking on TED.


18 comments on “Soft But Potent Power

  1. Here is some interesting commentary from a higher ed professor noticing that students will choose more “extrovert-like” answers on personality tests, with the underlying assumption it’s healthier.

    In a similar context, a former colleague of mine recommended the book, Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman – it’s on my reading list. The book aims to dispel the assumption that “book smarts” (ie. IQ) is more valuable than “street smarts.”

    • I read the article in your link. I hadn’t thought about introversion from the perspective of a professor, just the student. Really interesting. And he really brings home how much the extrovert ideal has been drilled into our culture. I also looked at the blurb on Emotional Intelligence. Sounds like an intriguing read as well. Reminds me of how in the book, ‘Quiet’, Susan Cain talks about the differences in how extroverts/introverts utilize the emotional vs. logical brain. These subjects really fascinate me.

  2. Being a writer requires quite a bit of extroversion. It’s really weird–people often think of a writer’s life as very solitary. I suppose during the process of writing, it is. But who has to get out and schmooze more than a writer? Definitely out of the comfort zone.

    • I absolutely agree. You can’t just write anymore. You have to offer readings and be a speaker. Put yourself out there. How I prevent myself from hyperventilating about that issue is knowing that volunteering…writing…international travel…and my faith in God are topics I love. It’s far easier to talk about something you love.

  3. Another book to add to my reading list! Years ago I read “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and I still remember his discussion of what he called “level 5 leaders.” It surprised his research team to learn that the truly exceptional leaders were humble, offten self-effacing, more inclined to give credit to others than to take it for themselves, and yet passionate about their work. We too often get blinded by personality and yet it is character that really matters. Thanks for an excellent post and for the book recommendation.

    • I hope other leaders will utilize this research, even if it is not their natural tendency to be humble and self-effacing. To consciously make an effort to give credit to others and specifically be on the look out to nurture people who show a passion for their work, I believe, would make a huge difference.

  4. This is one of my favorite books of 2011. I too have shared it with many friends and colleagues. Another you may want to read is “Solitude: A Return to the Self” by Anthony Stoor. Thanks for the post.

  5. I think a lot of non-profits are run by introverts; a CEO can stay behind the scenes of the more “extroverted, in the field” tasks where the moajority of the people may be and deal strictly with a tighter inner circle that handles the larger vision – their vision – of the company. A girlfriend of mine who was extremely introverted once said something to the effect of, “the cruise ship may have a really loud horn, look really “out there”, cool, fancy and get a lot of attention, but if the Captain wasn’t there with a couple good mates, quietly steering the thing out of plain site, the whole operation would go to hell” (I think she put it far more eloquently, but you get the jist ;P)
    Great post!

  6. Introversion and extroversion can also be analysed from another perspective, which may give you some clues. In our society we are “outward focused” and also “intelligence focused”. (Already)The ancient Asian cultures (thousands BC) where more “Inward and Wisdom focused”. As they say in Buddhism; one may be lost in projection with the mind turned outward. Also it is called the difference between “looking outward or seeing inward”. So, perhaps these success stories of introvert people are caused by the component “wisdom” in their actions.

    what do you think?

    PS: more of this on my blog! May I invite you to have a look, there is also a Mini Course how to learn quickly to “look inwards” and how to benefit from that.

  7. Thanks for the book recommendation. I look forward to reading this it because my daughter tends to be a solitary creature and sometimes I worry about it. I hope it will allow me to see her from a different perspective.

    • In the later sections of the book, she does go over some tips and examples for more extroverted parents on how to identify and respect their introverted child’s tendencies. (As well as how to help them overcome shyness, if that’s the issue). Cain argues that not all introverts are shy, that introversion has a lot to do with overstimulation from their environment and needing solitude to regroup. Really interesting read.

  8. Pingback: Beyond soft power and smart power: Transcendent power «

  9. I just bought ‘Quiet’ and haven’t started yet but your wonderful thoughts on this important book have encouraged me to! Usually have so many books on the go, but I am making room for it. I’ll start it tonight. Thanks for this great post.

    • Hi Gina,
      Glad you stopped by! ‘Quiet’ is definitely an interesting read–one that stays with you. It’s made me much more aware of the dynamics going on in my social circles. And it has also helped me not feel bad about needing time alone in addition to time with friends. I need both. Hope you like the book.

  10. This book sounds very interesting . . . An extrovert myself, I married an introvert. I am always looking for ways to better understand how his mind works.


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