At the core of each of us are our values – important and enduring beliefs about what is important. Once ignited, our instinctive drives can sustain us when we need to set aside our most natural behavior, as shown in this TED video by Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power Of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking.
An introvert by nature, the seven-year process of research, writing and solitary pursuit of writing Quiet suited Susan Cain to a tee. Promoting the book – not so much. But she is sacrificing her personal comfort in service of a greater good, and in so doing, she is giving voice to the thousands of individuals whose need for quiet, contemplative time has been sublimated to the modern ethos of gregarious, social interaction.
Today’s world reveres extroverts; in our choice of leaders, in how we educate our children, and in whom select to promote. The business world often confuses being outgoing with being a team player, and equates the most persuasive argument with the best solution. The extrovert is most often tapped for the promotion or leadership role. Introverts can make excellent leaders, somewhat ironically due to their capacity to let others shine, which gives air to many great ideas, not just their own.
Quiet resonated with me at a very profound level. An introvert myself, I am most comfortable working behind the scenes, socializing in smaller group, and engaged in one-on-one conversations. My career progression, however, has required that I increasingly engage in more public, larger group oriented endeavors. In my former life, upon becoming managing partner, I was urged to employ an open-door policy, sustain continual interruptions and engage in “walk-arounds” of superficial pleasantries. Instinctively I balked at the prescribed leadership methods, but understood and agreed with the underlying purpose – connect and engage with everyone in the office. Quietly defiant, I rejected the suggested behaviors and established my own leadership style, which proved extremely effective. I incorporated “open door” periods, interspersed with “closed door” time for focused, reflective work. In purposefully engaging individuals in longer, more meaningful discussions on a less frequent basis, they enjoyed dedicated time to ensure my complete attention. Anyone with a problem was welcome to alert me to it, and have a quick discussion to see if a ready solution was available. If more consideration proved necessary, we would agree on a time to thrash out a more elegant solution, with input from as many people as were involved.
As I reflect on it, I realize that my capacity to stretch myself was directly tied to my values of Perseverance, Zest and Hope. These sources of energy and inspiration stood me in excellent stead as I heeded the call for more extroverted activity, and thrived in the environment that permitted me to do it in an authentic way.
Ms. Cain ends her Ted Talk with several calls to action, among them,
– Stop the madness of continual group work. True creativity and inspiration often spring from the fertile ground of solitude. We could all benefit from quiet time, later coming together to exchange ideas once we’ve had a chance to flesh them out without unwitting “group think”.
– Our offices and schools need places that promote casual conversation and interaction, but be aware that forcing everyone to work constantly in large, open plan spaces can actually stifle creative thought. Allow people to retreat to private spaces without censure.
What else can we do?
– Be mindful that there is zero correlation between a proponent’s degree of vivid persuasiveness and the quality of the idea they are presenting. Encourage input from the entire spectrum of effusiveness.
– Help others to discover their values (also known as signature strengths) at http://www.viame.org/survey/Account/Register. It’s free!
– Give support so people can align their efforts with their values. Introverts can and will mobilize themselves passionately and effectively in service of things about which they feel most strongly – look at Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks.