The Power of Public Speaking

How Dyslexic CEOs Compensate

November 18, 2008

Virgin empire founder Richard Branson Gladwell 2.jpgsuffers from it. So does Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers. As does Paul Orfalea, founder of the Kinko’s chain. Charles Schwab, too. And what that is, is dyslexia.

If you wonder how some entrepreneurs who struggle at reading and writing not only succeed, but thrive, it’s often the result of developing superior public speaking skills (as well as social and problem solving skills). This is one aspect outlined in a fascinating New Yorker article by Tipping Point author Malcom Gladwell published last week titled: The Uses of Adversity: Can underprivileged outsiders have an advantage?

Gladwell suggests it’s fair to compare people who rise to the top in their field while battling disabilities, like dyslexia, to those who seem often to amaze us for success after being reared in poverty, or lacking the social connections affluent families can provide.

Gladwell points to a study that found 35 percent of small business owners suffered from dyslexia, surveyed by business school professor Julie Logan.

“That’s a remarkable statistic,” Gladwell writes. “Dyslexia affects the very skills that lie at the center of an individual’s ability to manage the modern world. Yet Schwab and Orfalea… and Branson seem to have made up for their disabilities in the same way that the poor, in [Dale] Carnegie’s view, can make up for their poverty.”

Another fascinating stat Gladwell points to came out of a study conducted in Britain. It found that 80 percent of dyslexic entrepreneurs had held the position of captain of a high school sport, versus 27 percent of non-dyslexic entrepreneurs.

“They compensated for their academic shortcomings, by developing superior social skills, and when they reached the workplace, those compensatory skills gave them an enormous head start,” Gladwell writes.

Gladwell’s New Yorker article comes on the heels of his new book, Outliers: The Story of Success, which hits bookstores today.

More about Malcom Gladwell and his books:

The Malcom Gladwell Effect, from the New York Times, Feb. 5. 2006

Secrets of Their Success: Fortune Magazine’s Q & A with Malcom Gladwell, Nov. 18, 2008

Gladwell TV Interview on The Colbert Report, Nov., 17, 2008

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