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Introvert Teens Can Make Effective Leaders

  • Faiza Elmasry

FILE - Bill Gates participates in a media availability , March 13, 2014. Author Susan Cain's new book explains how introverts - like Gates - can be effective leaders.

FILE - Bill Gates participates in a media availability , March 13, 2014. Author Susan Cain's new book explains how introverts - like Gates - can be effective leaders.

Speak up! Put yourself out there!

American society seems to put a great deal of value on being outspoken and outgoing. That can be stressful for introverts, who are more reserved and prefer solitary to social activities.

Expert Susan Cain, an introvert herself, has become the voice of those quiet people. In 2012, her book, Quiet: The Power of the Introvert in a World that Can’t Stop Talking was a success. In her new book, Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts, Cain take her positive message about introverts to teenagers.

Her goal is to help parents and teachers understand their introvert teens and nurture their secret power.

Facts vs. misconceptions

Introverted kids aren’t necessarily shy and they can be socially skilled. However, they tend to enjoy being alone, doing quieter things or hanging out with just one close friend at a time. Susan Cain says that’s how they get their energy. Their "batteries" are actually drained by loud activities.

“If you imagine an introvert going into a party where they’re having a good time," she explains. "At the end of two hours, you’re going to wish you were home because your battery is running low, whereas an extrovert in the exact situation, their battery is getting charged.

"So they kind of want more time at the party. This has everything to do with how you’re wired; how our nervous system reacts to stimulations," Cain said.

The notion that extroverts are more successful than the introverts, she said, is a misconception.

“If you look around, you see introverts contributing to this culture in all kinds of ways, people like Bill Gates, J.K Rowling (British novelist best known as the author of Harry Potter) Dr. Seuss (American children’s book author) -- any number people you could name who are contributing introverts contributing because of their quiet temperament, not in spite of it," she says. "But somehow this doesn’t add up and we live in a society that really encourages everyone, starting from the time they’re very young children, to be very gregarious and outgoing even if they are not at all.”

Cain also notes that there are more introverts than people think.

“You’re talking about one in every two or three people is introvert. That’s in the US. But then there are other studies that look comparatively at the world and find that the US is more on the extroversive side of the spectrum. So there are probably more introverts in other countries," she said.

Quiet leaders

To explore more about introversion among teens, Cain interviewed hundreds of teens, parents and teachers.

One of her important findings is that introverts can be effective leaders.

“One of the things we wanted to do in the book was look at the kids who were becoming leaders in their own ways," Cain adds. "For example there was one guy we profiled named Davis, who decided to run for president in his class. He was running against one of the most popular, sociable girls in the school who ran on a platform of more parties for everyone.

"Davis ... ran on a serious-substance platform proposals and his classmates really recognized the value of that and ended up voting for him. ... I want all kids to know that they can tap into their own ways of doing things and be powerful," she said.

Tips for parents, teachers

In her book, Cain gives some tips to both parents and teachers. She makes clear to parents that introverts usually want to come home at the end of the day and recharge their batteries, which means being alone. They shouldn't be pushed into after-school activities.

For teachers, she said, introvert students might not thrive in large-scale study groups.

“For many introverts by their nature they prefer to learn independently," she said. "They don’t want to be learning calculus in a group. They want to be putting their heads down, thinking the problems through.

"I also believe, having watched a lot of groups in action, that some groups work a lot better than others," she said. "They need to be managed properly by the teachers for introverts and extrovert. Is the teacher making sure that everybody has a specific role and knows what their role is? Is the group small enough is size so everybody is really contributing?”

Cain also urges teachers to give students a chance to participate at their own pace in class discussions.

“The simple act of waiting a few seconds after you ask a question and before calling on students will get a lot more participation than the normal thing as asking the question and one second later calling out for answers, she explains.

"Because when you do that you get the most extroverted kids who don’t need to think and process before they speak. Introverts want to process. So just that extra six or seven seconds, which can actually can feel excruciating, can lead to a much broader participation.”