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What Makes a Leader? (Friends Journal Book Club)

We’re reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, for the Friends Journal Book Club this month. Last week, we discussed what it’s like to currently live in the Culture of Personality rather than the early twentieth century Culture of Character. This week, we’ll discuss what makes a good leader. (Note: You don’t have to read the book to participate!)

In Chapter Two, Cain talks about her experience going to a seminar conducted by self‐help guru Tony Robbins, extrovert extraordinaire. As a paying participant, Cain has to engage in exercises which, she explains, “[suggest] that salesmanship governs even the most neutral interactions…[implying] that every encounter is a high‐stakes game in which we win or lose the other person’s favor” (38).

But what makes a successful person? In particular, what makes a successful leader?

At Harvard Business School, one of the most élite instituions in the nation, future business leaders are taught to “act confidently and make decisions in the face of incomplete information.” Cain watches groups at HBS engage in serious questions to see how they come to decisions and consensus. There, as well as at UC Berkeley, the most vocal students tend to be the ones followed by the group. But maybe, Cain suggests, we shouldn’t be so quick to listen to what the most talkative people have to say. After all, the leaders of many successful organizations (like Bill Gates, for example), are actually introverts. Contrary to what we may have assumed, a charismatic leader is not the most vital thing for an organization. Perhaps leaders need to be more “quiet,” “humble,” “unassuming.” In fact, the highest‐performing companies have just those kinds of leaders.

Questions to consider:

What do you think makes a successful leader?

What has been your experience with effective and ineffective leaders? What are some of the traits you thought helped your group or organization? What are traits that hurt?

Later in the chapter, Cain talks about the pressure put on Evangelical Christians to verbally share their faith with prospective members. Do you think an organization can reach out to new members effectively without being vocal? What are some other ways to invite people to be a part of a community?

Don’t forget to subscribe to comments below and add your thoughts, questions or comments to our discussion!

Not sure if you’re an introvert or extrovert? Take the Quiet Quiz on Susan Cain’s website.

*This is a Friends Journal Book Club installment.

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4 Responses to What Makes a Leader? (Friends Journal Book Club)

  1. woodscrone August 14, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    I have always believed that actions speak louder than words. A competent leader LISTENS and then makes appropriate comments based on listening. Often this being a need to reflect back to person talking what they are saying. Or.….facilitating, so that all persons have a chance to comment. One reason, among others, I left a book club is that a select few did all the talking. As an introvert I apparently was not pushy enough for my thoughts perspectives to be heard. I do much better processing information from the written word alone.

    • [email protected] August 14, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

      Well, that makes you perfect for our book club! All voices are heard…or seen, at least!

  2. Gabriel Ehri August 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    At a conference last weekend on Quaker leadership, Thom Jeavons — former staff leader of Baltimore Yearly Meeting and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting — spoke quite convincingly about overlaps between the key qualities of leaders and the core spiritual practices of Friends. I think they are germane to this discussion, and they also highlight how leadership and introversion aren’t mutually exclusive:

    * As Quakers, our practice of expectant waiting is analogous to the work a leader must do in discerning and defining purpose.
    * To be most effective, a leader must engage in ongoing efforts to engender shared commitment from those he or she leads, towards goals they share together. Doesn’t sound like the process by which “sense of the meeting” leads us along Spirit’s path?
    * A leader must demonstrate integrity and discipline, qualities that are at the core of faithfulness as Friends.

    For introverts, I don’t think the above qualities are at all out of reach. Some other qualities of leaders are tougher for introverts, in my opinion, such as relentless communication and the requirement (often, at least) to be a public face of the team.

  3. Gordon Ferguson August 21, 2012 at 5:10 am #

    I would like to commend to you the wisdom of John Macmurray, the Quaker philosopher (http://​www​.johnmacmurray​.org):
    “When there is a [community] which knows what must be done, leadership is never a difficulty, because the leader is then merely the agent or the servant of the purpose which he[/she] shares and which he[/she] is responsible for carrying out. Only within a body of people who are united …… can the understanding of what must be done arise. And this understanding must arise in them. It cannot be given to them from outside. They must first discover the action which they have to take in the social and political field; then they can commit the carrying out of this defined common purpose to agents of their own choosing. The whole principle of democracy involves this.” (The Creative Society 1935; SCM Press, p 167)
    Here you have very succinctly described the Quaker processes of adopting a ‘concern’, discerning the ‘sense of the meeting’ and nominations, written decades before Macmurray became a Quaker.

    This is radically different from the first two points quoted from Thom Jeavons by Gabriel. For me ‘leader’ is just another name for ‘priest’ or ‘minister’. We are all leaders — ‘leadership’ is merely a set of skills in persons that can be called upon to get a particular job done effectively. It is imperative in our age that we eschew the cult of personality and focus on character.

    Gordon Ferguson,
    member of Sheffield and Balby Area Meeting, UK, and chair of the John Macmurray Fellowship.

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