Review of Susan Cain’s book, Quiet (Chapter 2)

Several people have suggested Susan Cain’s work as material for my blog, and my dad gave me a copy of her book, Quiet, for Christmas last year, so I figured I’d take that advice (wouldn’t I make a great leader… see below!). I’ve finally finished reading it, so now, submitted for your approval (or not), here are my thoughts.

(And yes, I am totally writing this on a Saturday night. And it’s a perfectly enjoyable use of a Saturday night for me. Introvert power activate!)

Since there’s a lot of material to cover in the book, I’m splitting this up by chapter. (I won’t write about every chapter, as I found some of them more interesting/relevant than others.) This entry covers chapter 2, “The Myth of Charismatic Leadership.” But it does require a bit of background from chapter 1, entitled “The Rise of the ‘Mighty Likeable Fellow’.”

Basically, chapter 1 talks about the change that took place in this country around the turn of the century from what cultural historian Warren Susman termed “a Culture of Character” to “a Culture of Personality.” Before the turn of the century, Cain explains, “the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private” (21). But at the advent of the 20th century, American culture began to shift toward the Culture of Personality, which emphasizes the way in which one is perceived by others. In a comparison of self-help/advice books from the 19th century and the 20th century, Susman noted that the earlier books advised the cultivation of traits such as citizenship, duty, honor, manners, and integrity. In the 20th century books, the emphasis was on qualities such as magnetism, fascination, attractiveness, dominance, force, and energy. Cain goes into a variety of interesting factors that contributed to this change, but those wishing to know more on that subject can read the book. The point for me is that, apparently, pre-20th century American society was much more introvert-friendly than today’s!

One of the results of the transition from the Culture of Character to the Culture of Personality is how we define what makes a good leader. During the Culture of Character, no doubt a good leader would have been expected to be responsible, honorable, and a person of integrity. Nowadays, what we look for in a leader is, more often than not, charisma.