One of the readings for this week, Susan Cain’s Quiet, focused on finding introverts working in fields where extroversion and personality are highly valued. Cain questioned the notion that good leadership comes from a strong, outspoken person, despite the emphasis on such extroversion in our modern culture. I especially loved the description of a Tony Robbins seminar, where attendees paid upwards of thousands of dollars to be yelled at for 48 hours about the importance of being paid to yell at other people.
What resonated with me was the Harvard Business School, where educational practice focused on the decision making process of CEOs. Specifically, students were asked to make decisions (as CEOs) on important matters with incomplete information; if students chose to wait for clarity, they were perceived as “uncertain” leaders, which would lead to a lower morale for the company and a loss of investors; if students made a decision to appear decisive, they might make a decision that would sink the company. What I found interesting was that students were encouraged to make decisions in order to appear certain. As Cain wrote, “The CEO may not know the best way forward, but she has to act anyway”. The implications are that appearing to know the answer is more important than actually knowing the answer – and this is taught at Harvard!
Obviously, the real world is messy and complicated and nasty, and we as leaders will never be in ideal situations when it comes to making major decisions. But I find it disheartening to see Harvard teaching the wrong thing when it comes to decision making. The best leaders I have ever been around openly admitted when they didn’t have all the answers – and that admission was a strength, not a weakness. The Cain article was very informative in regards to what kinds of values a leader should, and shouldn’t, have.