Richard Branson

Believe it or not, Richard Branson would have us believe that he is an introvert at heart.

In an article penned by the Virgin Group Founder where he responds to a question posed by WinkHosting CEO Alexis Corredor: ‘Can an introvert be a good leader?’, Mr Branson makes the case that he was born naturally shy, and that his mother diligently and effectively challenged that shyness.

He also makes the case that some of the most important qualities a leader should possess are traits associated with introverts.

Starting off his opinion piece, Mr Branson admits that he has “strong feelings” on the matter of shyness and leadership. He also admits that as a child, he routinely refused to talk to adults, often hiding behind his mother’s skirt.

“As an introvert, my mother worried my shyness would become debilitating as I got older. So, to nip it in the bud, she continuously challenged me,” Mr Branson wrote.

At this point, readers can be left wondering why the prolific businessman would agree that introverts can be good leaders, when in his case, his shy traits were routinely challenged and minimised by his mother.

So, it’s not good for a business leader to be shy then?

“She tried to drum it out of me by explaining that shyness is a form of selfishness. She’d tell me that being shy was merely thinking of oneself, rather than wanting to make other people happy,” Mr Branson explains of his mother’s approach.

His shyness concerned his mother so much that she would encourage Mr Branson and his sisters to perform skits and entertain his parents’ friends: “It was certainly a case of tough love, but it really did help me gain confidence”.

He also spoke of one episode when he was six years old. His family were enroute to visit their grandparents, and on the way, Mr Branson’s mother stopped the car three miles short of his grandparents’ house. The idea was that Mr Branson would have to speak to adults and figure out directions to his destination.

“By the time I arrived, many hours later, she was very apologetic, but it did work. I started to become more comfortable interacting with adults and expressing myself.”

At this point, Mr Branson’s arguments point towards somebody who has succeeded in part thanks to the attention his mother paid to prevent Mr Branson from being limited in life by his shyness.

Crystallising his overall message, however, Mr Branson writes:

“If you work on your confidence in communicating and in social situations, there’s nothing stopping an introvert becoming a wonderful leader.”

Indeed, he admits that even after all the years of media appearances, press conferences, speaking engagements and events, he “still get[s] nervous and shy sometimes”.

“However, I’ve never let it get in the way of trying to be a good leader and a strong communicator. I’m so thankful to my mum for teaching me this. I also think some of my more introverted qualities have helped me improve my leadership.

“For example, I’ve always stressed that a good leader should listen more than they speak. It’s a quality that can’t be underestimated. Leaders should also be thoughtful, observant, self-aware, attentive, and they should always think before they speak. These are all qualities that are so often linked to introverts.”

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