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Megastar entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson enjoys a certain image as a social butterfly. When you think of him, your mind may first turn to images of him cavorting with models in an airplane hangar or entertaining world leaders on Necker Island, all with that trademark air of affable ease.

By all appearances, he’s a gregarious, somewhat bombastic hustler—the very stereotype most people associate with successful entrepreneurs.

So, it may surprise you to learn that Branson isn’t a natural extrovert. In fact, he’s actually very shy. As he wrote in a blog post last July, he’s had to train himself to become comfortable with both the spotlight and the non-stop social engagement required to build his empire:

“Believe it or not, despite all appearances I have always been naturally shy. Mum tried to drum it out of me by explaining how shyness is a form of selfishness. She would tell me being shy was merely thinking of oneself, rather than wanting to make other people happy. Ever since then I have always been willing to get up onstage and perform. This has led to all manner of fun appearances launching Virgin companies and highlighting good causes.”

Branson isn’t the only introverted business leader to build a wildly successful, world-famous company. Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg reportedly all work best when they’re alone—or, at least, when not surrounded by throngs of others.

There are many definitions of the phrase “introvert.” But, in broad strokes, the term describes a person who prefers solitary activity to group situations. According to estimates, this describes one-third to half of the general population. That means there are a heck of a lot of introverts running businesses. And that can create all sorts of issues.

Managing a company requires the leader to engage in many activities that suit extroverts perfectly: chairing meetings, dealing with a constant stream of interruptions, networking with potential clients and investors, even just chatting with staff around the water cooler. For an introvert, these tasks can be counterproductive—if not downright excruciating.

Read: 3 Networking Tips for Introverts

Branson claims to have dealt with these situations by training himself to become more extroverted. For example, when he’s giving a speech, he pretends that he’s confiding with a close friend in the living room. Tricks like that have helped him to manage his duties as the public figurehead of a very large organization with minimal discomfort.

That’s one solution. But I want to know about others. Are you an introvert running a business? What are the biggest obstacles you face, and what are the biggest misconceptions surrounding your personality and preferences? What tricks, policies and exercises have you adopted to make your work more productive and comfortable? What duties have you delegated to others that better suit their personality? In short, what have you done to succeed in a business landscape that is designed for—and heavily favours—the extroverted?

I’d love to hear your thoughts (anonymously, if you prefer). Drop me a line at deborah.aarts@profit.rogers.com or share your experiences in the comments below. We’ll publish the best responses in the PROFIT section of an upcoming issue of Canadian Business.

Read: Richard Branson on Mentorship

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