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10 Reasons Sensitive People Are Great Leaders

10 Reasons Sensitive People Are Great Leaders

As someone whom people have often labeled “sensitive,” I’ve grown used to hearing the word coupled with other terms like “overly.” Such words tend to attach negative connotations to sensitivity—a long-standing notion. Look at Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, for instance: “sense” here is characterized by calm composure and good judgement (embodied by Eleanor Dashwood). “Sensibility,” on the other hand, is characterized by intense feeling and sometimes irrational behavior (embodied by Eleanor’s younger sister, Maryanne). After all, Maryanne is the one who wanders about in the rain and sloshes through puddles after being jilted by her lover, eventually catching a severe chill that nearly kills her. Not exactly the poster child for good sense.

Based on the observations of Dr. Elaine Aron, who according to Sammy Nickalls coined the term “highly sensitive person” (HSP), this view of sensitivity is a misconception. Sensitivity, Dr. Aron tells us, “reflects a certain type of survival strategy, being observant before acting,” and people with strong survival skills are often self-driven, highly motivated individuals. Powerful emotions can act as excellent triggers to get you up and moving, and this quality lends itself readily to taking the lead and exercising control over the situations in your life. Here are ten reasons why sensitive people make great leaders.

1. They closely observe interpersonal relationships

Sensitive people have very strong emotional antennae and can easily tell who gets along and who doesn’t. This is an important skill to cultivate from classrooms to boardrooms. When assigning group work, a teacher might make sure that two students who tend to butt heads don’t wind up in the same group, for instance. A sensitive team leader or project manager will likely spot the most creative minds in the room and can envision the brilliant synergy that will result when their brains connect, so might ask them to collaborate on a catchy advertising campaign or new sales pitch.

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2. They are excellent sounding boards

As an English Lit student, I found this particular quality extremely valuable in the mentors and professors I had the privilege to study and work with. Sensitive people in positions of leadership and authority often serve in an advisory capacity, whether about a research project or an innovative product idea. Sometimes we have fully-formed ideas in our heads; sometimes they are embryonic and indistinct, without legs to stand or move forward. This is when we hit the leaders in our lives with what I affectionately refer to as brain-vomit—a stream of words that make absolutely no sense to anyone, but the skilled mentor will parse the useful nuggets from the chunks of meaningless mind babble and help you build your dream.

3. They let you vent

Leaders and managers have the responsibility of seeing that everyone under their supervision works well together, which often involves addressing misunderstandings and hurt feelings whether at home, in the classroom, on the playing-field, or in the workplace. Over at the Leading Blog, David Pollay discusses the fact that most of us are “garbage trucks,” carrying around needless toxic waste in the form of negative emotions like stress, anxiety, or resentment. Venting these frustrations clears the air, allows people to problem-solve, and everyone works and lives much more productively.

Pollay notes, however, the importance of distinguishing between venting and dumping; you need permission to vent, so remember that sensitive people are often in high emotional demand because others value their ability to relate and listen, so don’t take that for granted. If you want advice from your best friend or from a professional mentor, ask them if it’s an appropriate time before pressing the release button on your pressure valve.

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4. They understand the value of the compliment sandwich

Sensitive people make great leaders when it comes to evaluating others’ performance. One of the first things I learned when I became a teacher was how to deliver the compliment sandwich on student papers, essentially sandwiching constructive criticism between compliments. If Jonny’s paper was full of comma splices, but he had an excellent conclusion and sound research, I made sure to cushion the constructive criticism with the praise.

Since sensitive people can put themselves in the other person’s shoes and think about how they’d react if they were receiving criticism, they know to phrase their criticism in positive rather than negative terms. Telling one of your employees “You have great ideas, so make sure you express them confidently at our next meeting” will go down more smoothly than “You’re so shy that you gargle your words and nobody can understand you, so nobody takes your ideas seriously.”

5. They appreciate the importance of giving encouragement

Sensitive people tend to care a lot about what others think of them, and because of this they recognize that we all need to hear affirming words from time to time. Whether they’re offering much-deserved praise or simply a pat on the back to push others forward, sensitive people make strong cheerleaders and recognize that sometimes the knowledge that someone believes in us is all the motivation we need. Even on a bad day when we’re not on our A-game, the sensitive leader will take the time to thank us for our hard work and encourage us to press on.

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6. They think about timing when delivering information

Since sensitive people can easily empathize and step into the emotional shoes of others, whenever they have to deliver news or information, they try to imagine how they’d feel if they were on the receiving end of it, particularly if it’s bad news. If that promotion you were supposed to get fell through, they probably won’t tell you about it first thing Monday morning; that would be one hell of a rocky start to your week.

7. They always keep communication channels open

Everyone needs a security net now and then—someone we can fall back on and go to with questions that arise. This is why we have mentors, whether they’re parents, friends, teachers, or colleagues. My most valued mentors and leaders were the ones who ended every conversation or email with “let me know if you have any other questions or if there’s anything else you need,” and I learned to make a habit of this when corresponding with my students. Sensitive people know what it’s like to feel lost at sea, and they let their own experiences and emotions inform their dealings with others, which allows them to be an emotional safe harbor.

8. They love cultivating friendships

Maybe you have a boss or can remember a youth or camp leader who always knew everyone’s birthday and showed up with cupcakes and a card signed by everyone. Some people might find the warm fuzzies a bit too overwhelming, but sensitive people take the time to perform such rituals because they know that everyone likes to feel appreciated, and it’s hard not to bond with your coworkers when there’s chocolate cake in the break room.

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9. They value common courtesy

Part of maintaining a positive attitude, whether at school, at work, or on the playing-field, involves communicating to everyone that they feel valued as people, not just as moving cogs and gears in a well-oiled machine. Discussing professionalism amongst educators and college administrators, David Morse writes that in this fast-paced digital age when work is constantly interrupted by pings from cell phones and tablets with requests involving more work, “we may unwittingly slip into conduct that is less than collegial or professional and, in doing so, we can create an uncomfortable or unpleasant atmosphere that hinders the important work we do.”

Very often we think of greetings like “good morning” and “how are you doing” as mere formalities, but sensitive people ask because they really want to know. When a teacher wishes her students “good morning,” she wants to remind them that the day is full of potential for new experiences; when a supervisor concludes a last-minute meeting with “Thanks, everyone, for rearranging your schedules on such short notice,” she communicates to her staff that she values their time and their work ethic.

10. They make sure everyone pulls their weight

If you’re like me, you probably hated group projects in school because you always wound up doing most of the work. Having a sensitive person in charge often mitigates this problem. Whenever I took charge of group projects, I sat down, assigned each person a task, and checked in with everyone regularly to make sure the project was on track. This served two purposes: first, it ensured that nobody slacked off, and second, it ensured that everyone felt that they’d made an equal contribution to the project. The team spirit we felt from a job well done was all the more enjoyable in the end because it was the result of a genuine group effort.

Featured photo credit: Handsome modern businessman reading outdoors lying on stairs via shutterstock.com

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Last Updated on May 16, 2019

The Daily Rituals of 7 Successful CEOs

The Daily Rituals of 7 Successful CEOs

One of my favorite success quotes ever comes from one of the original and most successful ‘CEOs’ of his era: Aristotle. Here’s what he said:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

This advice is just as sound today as it was when Aristotle first expressed it, way back when. I’m reminded of this at least once a week, when I interview an inspiring author, leader, or successful CEO on my show. I ask my guests a series of questions about what has contributed to their success and their ability to build something meaningful.

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You want to know what nearly all of them say? Almost every time, they respond by telling me that their success is the result of simple habits  enacted day after day.

These quotes from seven successful CEOs demonstrate the daily rituals that have contributed to their success:

1. Promote what you love.

“It’s so much better to promote what you love than to bash what you hate.” – Jessica Alba, CEO of The Honest Company

2. Develop a feedback loop.

“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.” – Elon Musk, CEO of TESLA Motors

3. Create things that are better, not just “different.”

“Our task today is to find singular ways to create the new things that will make the future not just different, but better—to go from 0 to 1. The essential first step is to think for yourself. Only by seeing our world anew, as fresh and strange as it was to the ancients who saw it first, can we both re-create it and preserve it for the future.” – Peter Thiel, CEO of Palantir and best-selling author of Zero To One.

4. Meditate.

“Meditate. Breathe consciously. Listen. Pay attention. Treasure every moment. Make the connection.” – Oprah Winfrey, CEO of OWN Network

5. Read every day.

“Read 500 pages every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up like compound interest.”-Warren Buffet, CEO of investment firm Berkshire-Hathaway

6. Block time for email.

“Set aside a 20- to 30-minute chunk of time two or three times a day for email. Do not check continually through the day.” – Doug Camplejohn, CEO of predictive lead marketing company FlipTop.

7. Make your customers happy.

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” – Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com

Develop the right rituals. Become a successful CEO.

If the majority of these daily habits are new to you, avoid making the crucial mistake of adopting all of these habits at once. Research on habit-formation indicates that lasting habits are formed one at a time.

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For example, let’s say you’re excited about developing the following daily habits:

  • daily reading,
  • daily meditation, and
  • updating your to-do list every night

Let’s say that daily reading is the one that excites you the most out of the three habits noted above. It would be wise of you to begin by choosing and scheduling time to read every day, and then sticking to that time until it becomes a habit. Once it feels effortless and automatic, you’ll know that you’ve turned it into a daily habit. Now you’re ready to install the next habit… and the next… Until before you know it, you’ll start looking in the mirror and seeing the reflection of a successful CEO.

Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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