Leading lightly


It recently occurred to me that perhaps I lean more towards being an introvert than an extrovert. Even though the jobs I naturally enjoy tend to favor extroverts (business development, equities trading, venture capital). And I like these jobs because they allow me to be social - to learn from people by talking to them and hearing their stories.

Growing up, my interactions with other people and feedback I received conditioned me to be an extrovert, mostly because I was loud, participated in class, and talked a lot which led to labels like “social butterfly” or - at home (with love) - “chatterbox”. Somewhere in the process of getting older, I found that large social settings and many conversations with people in a short timespan didn’t necessarily give me the energy boost I thought it would. I leave happy hours, dinners, and events very ready to spend some time alone, or with close friends/family.

We often look at leaders, in the business world and in broader society, and think of them as extroverts. They speak publicly, they run meetings, they attend events. All important parts of their job. So we are conditioned to believe that extroverts make good leaders and that leaders are naturally extroverted.

The first time I realized there was something about a quiet leader that was powerful was at Camp Kesem, a community that was a big part of my Stanford experience. It’s a summer camp run by Stanford students for children with parents who have, or had, cancer. In Hebrew, Kesem means “magic” and that’s exactly what we try to create for the campers. For example, we don’t use our real names, only fake nicknames (mine was Jumps) and the campers only find out our real names when they graduate from camp. In line with the image of a summer camp, the outward impression of a camp counselor is one who is goofy, funny, loud, and always has campers jumping/hanging off of them.

When I first interviewed for a counselor position freshman year, I felt that my style was very different. The persona I created for myself as a counselor was quieter, and when I had a story to share, people in the counselor community generally had to get quiet to listen. I looked up to older counselors who were both loud and quiet. Every counselor at Camp Kesem was a leader in their own way and had developed their own “followership” of campers through very different styles. Across the board, a key part of leadership at camp was consistency. To this point, in a welcome address to members of the USV network, Fred said something that stuck with me, "Leadership is committing to doing something, telling people you're doing it, and then just showing up to do it."

This definition of leadership makes a lot more sense to me, than perhaps what we’re conditioned to believe about leaders from a young age. And putting these preconceived notions aside has allowed me to notice and appreciate quiet leaders more in both my personal and professional life.

Naomi Shah