As an Introvert, Can I Become a CEO?

Ever since the second grade, my dream has been to become a business owner. When my teachers would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would smile and say, “A businesswoman! I am going to start my own business.

However, a sense of worry has become instilled in me, as I have begun to feel that my personality does not particularly line up with the archetypal CEO as defined by my Commerce degree program.

I have an inherent fear and dread of presenting (my fear is greater than death itself), I lack any motivation to engage in small talk (I just find that talking about the weather is too forced and straining for my liking), and I don’t really love to do a whole lot of talking in general. I prefer working alone and having quiet nights to myself, curled up on the couch, reading a book or watching a movie. I just like to spend my days alone in peace and in solidarity.

This is not to say I am a loner by any means; I have many friends whom I love to hang out with and go on coffee dates with. I just have a strong preference to speak when I feel the words are meaningful to me and when I see the opportunity to engage in deep, heartfelt conversations. Overall, I ultimately prefer to be able to sit back and just listen.

Yet, my program is built on the foundations of extroversion (at least, in my opinion). We are assessed primarily on presentations and in-class participation. We are expected to attend ceaseless events and conferences where we are to network for hours at a time, just so we can perhaps score the job we want (not to say this isn’t good, I just find these conversations too rigid for my liking). This is not to say that I don’t love my program; in fact, I’m in love with my program. It has shaped me in ways that no other experience has before. It’s just that feeling pressured to talk, talk, and talk all day is mentally exhausting and it is not exactly my specialty. I feel there is limited room to express myself in ways that doesn’t require talking or self-presentation.

And I am told that to master business ownership, we have to do a whole lot of talking, and we must be exceptionally good at it. It’s how we present ourselves and convey our ideas that’ll score us the ticket in. What has been deemed as the successful road path to becoming a CEO is comprised of all the things that I actually detest. So why would I ever become a CEO?

I believed this for the first year and a half of my university experience, until I read Susan Cain’s novel, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

In fact, I have learned that I not only can become a successful and prosperous CEO, but I have also been overlooking the power that introverts have in our society. The power that has led us to great things. The power that approximately half of the world has (meaning that half of us are in fact introverts! Even those who put on the extrovert facade - myself included).

Have you heard of Bill Gates, Brenda Barnes, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, or Rosa Parks? How about Albert Einstein or Dr. Seuss?

Yep, you guessed it, these powerful and influential leaders are all introverts.

What myself, and many, have overlooked is what introverts have brought and can potentially bring to the table. And as you can see based on these incredible figures in our society, we can bring a whole damn lot.

Why are we great leaders? How can silence and independence bring value to organizations and society as a whole?

Because as introverts, we love to listen. Our listening, observation, and ability to ask meaningful questions is what fuels our fire of creativity, innovation, and the ideas that can set us up to become successful and impactful CEOs.

What is also great about us is that we are shitty at presenting. (Well, that’s not necessarily true - we can become great speakers, with hours upon hours of practice for a presentation that an extrovert could possibly pull off by rehearsing 10 minutes before the presentation itself. Though this is also not to say that all extroverts don’t get nervous either.) I say it’s good to be a shitty presenter, because it inhibits inauthenticity. Our trembling voices and the blushes that fill our faces makes us relatively transparent when we communicate. Usually we are a lot better at communicating our ideas when they are meaningful to us. It’s very easy to tell when an introvert is passionate about the topic at hand. We don’t prefer to talk for the sake of talking; we prefer to talk only when it’s to communicate rich, insightful ideas.

We can lead with our listening. We can lead with our notable transparency. We can lead with our unconventional creativity. We can lead with quiet.

This is not to say you have to be an introvert to be a true leader. I’m saying that there needs to be an appreciation for the quiet (as alluded to in Quiet). We need to shine the spotlight on introverts (don’t actually do that - we’ll take off running) and understand that they have incredible value to bring to the table. Introverts need extroverts just as extroverts need introverts. We balance each other out. Introverts depend on the voices while extroverts depend on those who will capture the ideas and perspectives in full detail. Quiet highlights that organizations “need to groom listeners as well as talkers for leadership roles.” This is essential.

This is also not to say that I am going to give up trying to capture some of the talents that extroverts have, because these talents are exceptional and will help me grow. I want to keep working at my voice, but throughout it all, I will not lose sight of my true personality and who I am. There are talents both extroverts and introverts can share with each other that will propel the best leadership in an organization and society as a whole.

I was so scared that my preference for not talking would dismantle my entrepreneurial spirit and ultimately hold me back from my dream of becoming a business owner. Knowing that I can in fact become a CEO calls for strong attention for educational programs to look into options that give introverts the opportunity to thrive, because I promise that we will impress. Not only will we impress, but we will lead in ways that have never been seen before.

Quiet showed me that introversion goes beyond stage fright and individualism. It showed that we need not see introversion as a burden, but as an extraordinary gift.

I cannot wait to become a CEO.