I’ve written before – quite a lot, actually, here, here, here, here, and here – about cognitive failures. I think these failures – our ability to see the truth, put simply – corrupt many of our organizations, especially on matters of hiring. We choose to hire people, for the most part, based on a faulty set of ideas. And then we live with those decisions, in a kind of confirmation-bias prison, unable to see the folly of our ways.
I proceed from well-established premises: that schools can improve; that teachers are the most important factor in establishing quality schools, and that leaders are second only to teachers in their importance. One more: hiring the right people is crucial.
The kinds of traits selected for in the hiring process appear to be just that: traits. Not skills or abilities, but personality markers; markers that the hiring teams tend to be swayed by in the way we are sometimes swayed by a clever salesman. We end up with overly gregarious types, men who are tall and possessed of a firm handshake. This is especially true of leadership positions. And when these larger-than-life types create mediocre results, we pawn it off on outside factors (“Boy, that’s a tough job – I wouldn’t want it”), and sometimes even muse “how much worse it would have been without him.”
Enter Susan Cain. A Manhattan-corporate-lawyer-turned author, she tries to salvage the lowly introvert in the TED clip below. Like (the extroverted) Jim Collins in his wildly influential Good to Great (in his insistence that humility and will constitutes the best leadership), she points out that some of our most beloved leaders are introverts. If all we were looking for was a broad smile, firm handshake, and wonderful small talk, we would have missed out on some of the best, Abraham Lincoln included.
Also see Carla Luchetta, of TVOs The Agenda, on a similar theme.