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Speaker Spotlight: Harnessing Introversion with Susan Cain

About Susan Cain

Susan Cain is the co-founder of Quiet Revolution and the author of the bestsellers Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts, and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking, which has been translated into 40 languages, has been on the New York Times bestseller list for almost three years, and was named the #1 best book of the year by Fast Company magazine, which also named Cain one of its Most Creative People in Business. She is also the co-founder of the Quiet Schools Network and the Quiet Leadership Institute.

Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. On top of her many accolades, her record-smashing TED talk has been viewed over 17 million times and was named by Bill Gates one of his all-time favorite talks. We sat down with Susan to discuss her upcoming session at Nordic Business Forum 2018 entitled, “Quiet: How to Harness the Strengths of Introverts to Change How We Work, Lead, and Innovate”.

Speaker Spotlight Interview

Nordic Business Forum: Hi Susan! It’s great to speak to you. Let’s start by defining some terms. What are introverts and extroverts?

Susan Cain: Yes, sure! An introvert is a person who tends to get their energy from being in more quiet situations. And I always think it’s important to understand it from a biological point of view. Because introverts and extroverts tend to have different nervous systems. So introverts have nervous systems that react more to stimulation, and that means we’re at our sweet spot when things are quieter. And extroverts have nervous systems that react less. And so for them, they need more stimulation to feel alive.

Extroverts are the opposite. They get their energy from loud and vibrant places. And so we tend to think of these personalities as being about how social you are. But that’s not really accurate. There’s no difference in the warmth and social affiliations between introverts and extroverts. But the difference is how you want to express the social impulses. So introverts like to express them quietly and often with people who they know well. And extroverts would tend to want to socialize in a more stimulating way, so with a lot of people or meeting new people who they never met before.

Then there are ambiverts who are kind of the people who are in the middle of this introvert-extrovert spectrum. And they come in different styles or different flavors. So some ambiverts are just kind of always sort of in the middle of those two. And then some ambiverts will tell you that they have some situations where they’re quite introverted and somewhere they’re quite extroverted. So it really depends on the person.

NBForum: Have you found that there is a stigma associated with introversion, or is it more accepted and sought after in business?

SC: Yeah. Well, I mean, the data really speaks for me in a way because there are all kinds of data showing the ways in which organizations need both types. That the best functioning teams are a mix of introverts and extroverts. The introverts on your team are the ones who are more likely to kind of sit down and think through a problem, and create a thought process – the kind of subtleties that might make the difference between doing a project well or not – whereas, extroverts tend to have a more just-do-it approach to problem-solving. And you really need both styles in the room. You need both styles on any project. And then there’s also a lot of interesting data showing that introverted leaders deliver either as good or sometimes better outcomes than extroverted leaders do. So there’s an enormous bias against appointing introverts as leaders. But once they get into their roles, they tend to do really well. We have this idea that leaders should involve that kind of very bold, alpha, charismatic style. And that’s one way to be a leader, but it’s certainly not the only way.

Introverted leaders can look many different ways. But I’ll give you one example of somebody who I’m going to talk about in my talk there. His name is Douglas Conant, and he was the CEO of Campbell Soup until recently. And he’s quite shy, and he’s quite introverted. But he’s a very caring guy, and he really wanted to connect with his employees. And so he used to find out who were the employees who had contributed a lot to the company. And he would sit down and write them personal letters of thanks. And people really treasured those letters that he wrote to them. And he wrote 30,000 of those letters during the ten years that he was the CEO. And introverted leadership can look like that. It can also look like somebody like Bill Gates, who’s just really passionate about what he’s doing, and he’s motivated by that. And people can feel it. They want somebody who’s very competent, very engaged, and very passionate. They’ll follow a person like that. At the end of the day, I think people follow conviction more than anything else. And one thing that many introverts really have in place is the kind of conviction about what they’re doing. Because they tend to be people who kind of go deep. They have one or two areas in their lives that they really care about, and are really passionate about. And so if you get an introvert who is a leader in that area of this passion for them, that can be incredibly powerful.

NBForum: What’s can leaders do to support their introverted employees and bring out the best in them?

SC: One thing would be to sit down with everybody in the staff, but in particular with your introverts, and get them to really tell you what their biggest dreams are for themselves for the next one year, three years, five years. Because people often assume that the quieter people who work for them are less ambitious than extroverts. And they may not be as vocal but you might have no idea what their true ambitions are. So, sit down and find out, and then map out a pathway for them to get to where they want to be. And if it is, for example, leadership that they’re looking for, help them figure out what are the places where they can draw on their natural strengths, and where are the places where they might take a step outside their comfort zone. And you’re going to help them do that little by little by little.

NBForum: And how about from the other side of the table – how can introverts stand out during the hiring process?

SC: One of the things introverts do really well is to think deeply and prepare beforehand instead of just winging it. And so you want to think before you go into a job interview about what is the story that you’re telling, what are the assets that you bring there for that job. And to think of it from the perspective of the person who’s interviewing you, how are you going to be making their life easier? That’s really what they want to know. How will you be doing work that will make them look good and make their life better? And so if you just take the time to think about what are the ways in which I’m truly contributing here, and practice telling that story beforehand, you don’t have to be the loudest, most gregarious person. I go back again to the point about conviction. You have to be the person who has conviction about what you’re saying because people can feel that. So make sure before you go to the interview that the points you’re going to be making about yourself are, one, that you feel strongly about, and you really believe in. Because that’s what’s going to come through.

NBForum: Wonderful! One final question: if people reading this interview learn only one thing from you, what should it be?

SC: Get into the habit of figuring out what you truly believe about things, and then speak from that place of conviction. Because conviction is really what carries the power at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter if you’re tall, or extroverted, or loud, or dominant, or anything. You don’t need any of that. If you’re speaking with conviction, that’s what carries the power.

About Nordic Business Forum 2018

Nordic Business Forum will host its 9th annual business and leadership conference by the same name in Helsinki on the 26th and 27th of September 2018 for 7,500 C-level executives and business owners. Our 2018 main event will bring to the stage some of the world’s preeminent experts on strategy, artificial intelligence, and peak performance for two action-packed days.

NBForum 2018 is a place where you will uncover strategic success principles, discover how to apply new technologies to win in business, and learn how to drive and sustain personal performance. It’s also THE place to network and drive business development. The networking opportunities presented by our guests are unparalleled in the Nordics. You’re getting more than just a conference ticket — you’re getting access to some of the greatest business minds on the planet!

Nordic Business Forum is Europe’s leading conference organizer with events in Finland, Sweden, and Norway.



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