Quiet is the Sound of Leadership…

Quiet, by Susan Cain, is expertly researched, and written with a very digestible, intimate voice such that any educator would be hard pressed to not recognize themselves, a student, parent or administrator in her stories and recounting of people’s experiences.

Full disclosure, on took the QUIET TEST and found out that I am an Ambivert:

This means that I have characteristics of both the introvert and the extrovert. But that’s not why I read this book. I read it because in my role I have been exploring the ‘story of leadership’ and ‘pathways to leadership’ in the student experience. As a result of research, I’ve discovered that our leadership story is heavily tilted towards the (in the language of Quiet) “extrovert bias”.

You would be interested in reading this book if you:

  • – Felt that you needed to better understand those students that are more ‘in their own head’, or reticent to contribute to class discussions. (throughout the book)
    – Wanted to explore classroom strategies that could support these students (pg. 255)
    – Wanted to tap into how extroverts and introverts can tap into each other’s strengths (pg. 120)
    – Were considering how introversion, as a force of personality, could better inform how you work with others (professionally and personally)

What is Introversion?

Susan Cain writes, in an article entitled “Susan Cain Talks about Work“, Introverts get their energy more from being on their own and extroverts get more energy from being out there with others. It’s the idea that we all have a battery that either gets drained or recharged depending on how much social life is coming at you. I think this is largely accurate and helpful as a metaphor but it’s important to understand that it is only a metaphor for what is happening neurobiologically. The fact is that introverts and extroverts really do have different nervous systems. We are wired differently. Introverts have a nervous system that reacts more to all forms of stimulation — whether that’s lights, noise, or social life. They are most productive and comfortable in environments that are less stimulating.


Consider this about your own school?

  1. When asking students to point to peer leaders, who would they point to?
  2. When asking students to consider qualities necessary for leadership, what would be their top three answers?
  3. When asking teachers, who are the leaders of the school that get things done?
  4. When asking parents, who are the leaders of the school?

Generally, the answer is phrased around the “elected leaders” – those that are on-stage, leading the assemblies, with a dash of popularity, and pinch of charisma. I would agree too – so would Susan Cain! However, as we delved further into leadership at my school, we discovered that leadership manifests itself in many different ways that are, and this is significant, Quiet forms of leadership.

Shhhhhh… I’m Design Thinking

When I think of Design Thinking, when I look back on all of the ways that I’ve been involved, leading, or taking part in design thinking, I think of it as a loud, highly social endeavour. Crazy Eights, Dot-voting, and all the other protocols involved always bring to mind hyper-collaboration.  However, it is actually a rather ‘quiet’ activity. Moments of intense thinking, concentrated and QUIET reflection, that erupts onto the page. Even dot-voting has a very individual, intro-spective side to it, where you contemplate – without talking – the merits of an idea. Storyboarding…same thing.

Teachers and facilitators can use time as a strategic resource to engage those that enjoy more processing time.

When looking at Design Thinking through the lens of Quiet, there is a high degree of synergy. These are elastic moments that can be stretched to suit a more introverted student. Teachers and facilitators can use time as a strategic resource to engage those that enjoy more processing time simply by lengthening some protocols and shortening others.

Leadership manifests itself in many different ways that are quiet forms of leadership.

Even the use of social-media can be leveraged to engage those who would rather not – or cannot – speak in front of a classroom of people. Teachers can use Google Docs, Twitter, Google+, etc… to allow students to take home their thoughts and connect back with the classroom.

Leaders Can Leverage Quiet

We have also seen that many executive leaders who appear to be extroverts are really introverts in disguise

As I read through Quiet I read with the lens of teacher to student. However, the book also touches on the importance of recognizing Quiet in our colleagues as well. In the same article quoted above, Susan Cain writes:  “What I would say as a takeaway is to think about the people in your organizations who are really passionate and capable and whether they have so called “natural” leadership skills. I would think about grooming those people and getting them the training and development they need to assume leadership roles and really unlock their talent. From our experience at QLI — working with Fortune 500 companies — we have seen so many highly talented people be overlooked for leadership roles because they didn’t fit the mold. And yet, somewhat ironically, we have also seen that many executive leaders who appear to be extroverts are really introverts in disguise.”

I wonder how many of my colleagues in the community of schools in which I work are introverts in disguise? How many of us dread faculty meetings because of the social interaction? How many of us are drained by department meetings because of the collegiality that is expected?

As I write this, I wonder if there isn’t some tension here between those that prefer to work alone in a line of work that – more and more – is asking for collaboration, connectivity, and sharing. Even George Couros’ book “The Innovator’s Mindset” doesn’t leave a lot of room for teachers who are hesitant, reticent, or just plain terrified of sharing. His book is chalk full of examples of teachers using Twitter to connect, creating TED-talk style videos to share with colleagues, and even presenting them face-to-face during staff meetings.

While I whole-heartedly agree with Mr. Couros on the need for these, and would love to see faculty and staff embracing these approaches, reading Quiet, has given me pause.

Introverted Leadership

We need to design different ways to hear from these introverted teachers to engage. First, is recognizing that they are already highly engaged. They are deep in thought, and it is up to administration and colleagues to create opportunities to unlock their wisdom, insight and ideas.

Twitter can be a great tool because it is asynchronous, and can be done ‘off-line’. TEDtalk approaches can be rich; however, they can be reimagined as a voice-thread so that speaker doesn’t have to show their face, or even face the camera. Anonymous suggestion boxes is a great beta alternative as well.

For extroverts it might be something like knowing that if you want to get the best ideas from introverts you’re probably not going to get that from them at a big meeting. Introverts tend not to want to think out loud. So send them an email to let them know what you want to talk about and give them a chance to prepare their thoughts in advance. Those are just two tips out of so many. The best place to start is really getting that conversation going freely.
~S. Cain

Susan Cain would argue that it is the power of introverts – their compassion, their deep thinking, their willingness to live in the problem and not just react to it, that makes great leadership. It is their ability to have patience in this world on hyper-drive that can allow organizations (educational and otherwise) to make great decisions, plan effectively and thrive.

I highly recommend this book, and for more, check out her site Quiet Revolution

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Quiet

  1. Yes!!!! This is a fantastic book and I’m so happy your students at Havergal get to benefit from this thinking.

    I just saw this article in The Atlantic and it relates to the teaching side of things:


    This is a post I saved from Cult of Pedagogy (do you follow her? Awesome stuff posted…highly recommend):

    I would love to hear how you implement some of Cain’s ideas in your school, as this is something that I think many of us struggle with!

  2. Thanks for sharing Garth, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! It really made me reflect on the introverted students and teachers in my school in a different light, and left me with lots to think about.

    P.S. I definitely took the Quiet Test, turns out I’m a fellow Ambivert : )

    1. I just replied with that same thought to @ckirsh. This book takes what we know about learning already, and shows it to you through a different light. I love that. I’ve also really enjoyed following @quietrev on Twitter for the same reason.

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