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Can introverts succeed in business schools?

Introverts in Business School

As a young man, he found it tough to get people to believe in his ideas and took coaching classes to get over his fear of communicating, especially in groups. But he was a gifted entrepreneur and turned a profit on everything he touched.

Despite his painfully introverted nature, this young man went on to become the world’s most successful investor, and routinely features on the ‘world’s richest’ lists.

If you haven’t guessed already, we are referring to Warren Buffett, an inspiration for every introvert who wonders whether he or she can make it in the world of business and high finance.

Buffett is not the only high-profile individual you would never have described as an introvert. Featuring in Time magazine’s list of Great Introverts And Extroverts of Our Time (Jan 26, 2012) are Microsoft’s Bill Gates, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Here’s the point we are making: it is an erroneous belief that only extroverts are successful individuals. The fact is, extroverts and introverts can be equally successful, as the list above proves; their contrasting personality styles simply make for different approaches to success.


Introverts vs Extroverts: A Study In Contrasts

Classically, the extrovert is a gregarious risk-taker who gladly expresses their opinions and loves to jump right into a discussion. While not all of them are charismatic and born leaders, all of them love company and thrive in a group. The extrovert is a people-person, chatty and a good communicator. They are assertive, proactive and usually act before they think.

The introvert, on the other hand, is reserved and prefers their own company. They are comfortable with one-on-one communication and may even mentally freeze when in a group. They take time to think through their ideas before expressing them, and recharge when on their own. They do their best creative thinking when alone.

It is easy to see why an introvert may wince at the thought of applying to business school, an environment clearly tilted in favour of group learning. Here, team work, group discussions, networking, group brainstorming, joining study groups and campus clubs are the route to getting that coveted degree. Why, Harvard Business School’s much vaunted case-study teaching method calls for class discussion and group participation to achieve good grades.

And why business school alone? Speaking up for oneself and standing out from the crowd are very basic survival tools, both socially and in the world of business. After all, this is the age of collaboration, one would assume that only individuals with the ability to work well in groups make it to the top.


A Case For The Introvert in Business School

Well, we have some great news for the introvert who wonders whether he or she can make it through business school and beyond.

In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain makes a powerful case for introverts. According to her, as many as one-third to half of Americans are introverts.

Cain, a self-professed introvert, believes that personality impacts our lives as deeply as gender and race do, and that one’s place on the introvert-extrovert continuum is a core aspect of one’s personality.

In fact, she goes so far as to say that introverts are treated as ‘second-class citizens’ and society needs to recognise that they contribute just as much as extroverts do, only in a different way.

Cain draws attention to the fact that society exalts the extrovert and teamwork to the exclusion of all else. Why, even ‘talkers’ are considered ‘smarter’ and employers place a premium on ‘soft skills’ and ‘people skills’, don’t they? Group learning in school and open-plan offices, designed to be interactive, all rail against the ‘quiet thinker’.

Yet, Cain reveals, being a charismatic, extroverted team leader or manager does not inspire better performance from co-workers or subordinates.

She says that introverted leaders are often more successful because they allow the ideas of their co-workers and teams to flourish without instinctively feeling the need to put their own stamp on the conversation.

While extroverted leaders feel the need to ‘do all the talking’, which can thwart the creativity of the group and hold back ideas, an introverted leader is much more democratic.


“Problem-solving will need more and more team work and collaboration but we do need to give introverts the freedom to be themselves, which is how they do their best work,” says Cain, an ardent advocate for balance and inclusion of different work styles.


Busting Myths about Introverts

Cain is not the only one carrying the torch for introverts. Lisa Petrilli, author of An Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership, too believes that different personalities excel in different ways in any business program, given the right opportunity.

“Introverts are very capable and very good at not only leading where they can excel, but working with teams and through teams and creating relationships, because they are really good at creating relationships one-on-one. So introverts can absolutely excel in the business world; they just approach it differently,” she remarks.

Petrilli busts some myths about introverts.

  • Introverts are shy. There is no correlation at all.
  • Introverts are socially inept. This may be true of some introverts only and is also true of some extroverts.
  • Introverts are bad communicators. This is social anxiety and does not relate to introversion per se.
  • If you act like an extrovert, you can overcome being an introvert. Wrong!


Fraser Johnson, a professor at University of Western Ontario’s Ivey Business School, has a very valuable piece of advice for introverts who, despite reading this piece, still doubt their place on a business school roster.

He points out that’s an MBA program is all about pushing one’s boundaries and getting out of one’s comfort zone. It is as much about learning new skills as it is about getting the degree. “It’s a low-risk way to be able to improve your capabilities in the area of communication,” says Johnson.

Also read How MBA Programs help with personality development and Campus life as a shy and introverted MBA student in USA


References: 1, Susan Cain (2, 3) | Lisa Petrilli (4, 5) | Warren Buffett (6, 7) | 16 Successful Introverts (8) | TIME Magazine | Jenna Goudreau (9, 10) | Image source

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

8 thoughts on “Can introverts succeed in business schools?”

  1. Hi Sameer.
    I am a B.Tech pass-out student in Electrical & Electronics branch, 2013 batch. Currently, working in private training institute as a centre manager., having almost 2+ year experience. Now, i am planning to do MBA in marketing/management field. Which course is good for me (career growth & salary wise)- 1). Executive MBA (from IIM-Lucknow through NIIT-Imperia). 2). Regular course in one year executive MBA programme from IMT, Gaziabad.

    or, u suggest which will be better for me…!!

    Executive MBA is a degree course or, just a certificate course..!!

  2. I am a final year students pursuing B.Tech in Mining Engineering from IIT Dhanbad. I want to do higher studies in top universities either an MBA in India or MBA/MS in business/ analytics / finance related fields outside India.My CGPA is 7.5 and I got a job in IT field. But I am not interested in doing job. I want to give CAT and GRE/ GMAT this year and want to build my profile accordingly. So, I need your suggestion on what to focus more from my career options and what all should be done to use this year more effectively to achieve it.

  3. Hi,
    i am Akshay I am currently working in company on a post of developer what should be appropriate time to spend in development and then ms. It may beneficial for me (experience ) to get a salary in multiple than who doesn’t have experience in development but only ms? My b tech academic is 59.45 so am I eligible for any kind of scholarship. please let me know.

  4. Hi Sameer
    I am a Software Developer,working in India last 2.8 year.Currently i am willing to complete one year executive course in India. I want to know which is the best college about placements, course fees for complete this course.

  5. If i have my GRE score how can I get into a university can u tell me the process and now I am doing my btech in Srm university in auto mobile Branch . can u prefer me a course in. ms

  6. @Sachin: Thanks for the kind words and encouragement.

    @K.Kant: I vote for Option 2 – full-time program from a reputed MBA college

    @Vamshi: You can try for CAT for domestic MBA courses or GRE for MS programs. Pick one and give it your all. Remember that GRE based MS programs will start only a year later. So you’ll need to be gainfully employed in that period.

    @Akshay: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand your question. If you wanted to know if you can apply to MS programs, then sure you can. Scholarship decisions are based on a lot of factors, so can’t predict what’ll happen.

    @Subhadip: Here’s a list to get you started:

    @Girish: We’ve covered the MS application requirements and process in detail in this article:

  7. Hello! I am MSc. Biotech student in my final year. I want to work in a biotech/pharma/lifescience firm. Will an mba help me in getting a job? Could you suggest a suitable mba branch as i am an introvert?


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