by Martha Heller

Attention Introverts!

Apr 02, 20132 mins
CareersCIOIT Jobs

Shyness and quiet reflection may be a leader’s greatest strength

What’s the difference between an introverted CIO and an extraverted CIO?

The introverted CIO looks at his shoes when he talks to you; the extroverted CIO looks at your shoes.


Yes, it’s an old joke, and I apologize for that, but it does raise a point: most CIOs are introverts.  While I will admit that I have no quantitative research to support this assertion, I have a wealth of qualitative evidence.  I am an “extreme extravert” who has been hanging out with CIOs since the late 90s, and I know an introverted group of executives when I see one.

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This mass introversion poses a problem to a professional community for whom communication and influencing skills are critical to success. Or does it?

According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, introversion may be a leader’s best asset.

Quiet reflection, not cocktail parties, notes Cain, has been the preference of some of the world’s greatest leaders.  Introverts outperform extraverts, academically, in high-school and college. Introverts are more likely to get an advanced degree; they are better test takers. Introverts have more perseverance than extraverts and are better problem solvers. Introverts live longer.

Cain uses leadership case studies, neuroscientific research, and social history to address the topic of introversion.  Along the way, she argues that “the extraverted ideal” was invented by advertising executives; she shows that shyness has a physiological foundation, and she offers guidance to parents of introverted children.

While not everyone loved Quiet (see Judith Newman’s review in the New York Times), If you consider yourself to be an introvert (or like me, you’re an extravert drawn to introverts), you should find something to appreciate in this thoughtful and engaging book. 

Until next time,