Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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

More by this author

picture of colorful blue plastic spoons 6 Simple Life Lessons To Be Learned From Spoon Theory image of a girl relaxing in a hotel reading magazines Five Ways Reading Improves Your Life 10 Things Only Book Nerds Can Appreciate Book cover of Emma (1815) by Jane Austen 10 Quotes From Jane Austen’s Emma That Can Teach Us About Life image of a girl working on a Macbook 5 Tips I’ve Learned About Being A Successful Freelancer

Trending in Productivity

1 The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) 2 What to Do When Bored at Work (And Why You Feel Bored Actually) 3 6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills 4 How to Concentrate and Focus Better to Boost Productivity 5 15 Productive Things to Do When Bored (So Time Is Not Wasted)

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

Advertising

Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

Advertising

One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

Advertising

But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

Advertising

It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next