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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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Published on February 17, 2020

How to Stay Focused on Your Goals in a Distracting World

How to Stay Focused on Your Goals in a Distracting World

In this digital era, distractions can seem impossible to avoid. Just figuring out how to stay focused on your goals and ambitions can feel as difficult as actually achieving them.

These days, constant distractions can lead to a massive loss in productivity.

Statistics show that employees, on average, waste 28% of their time dealing with and trying to recover from unnecessary interruptions.[1]

And that’s at work, where you’re paid to be productive, and where some of us are monitored too much or too closely for comfort.

So, one can only imagine how much time is lost or wasted when we are left to our own devices.

A World of Distractions

Speaking of devices, how many times have you grabbed your cell phone at the very moment you hear a notification, wasting precious time scrolling through social media when you should be using that time working on your goals?

I can bet a lot.

But we’ve all been there.

Sometimes, even with the best of intentions and efforts to stay on task, we still find ourselves being chronically distracted.

Chances are you’ll be interrupted before you can even finish reading this article.

The reality is as undeniable as it is unavoidable: we live in a world full of distractions!

But how can you take back control of your time and attention to avoid these distractions and learn how to stay focused on your goals?

There are several strategies for overcoming distractions and reclaiming your focus, such as avoiding social media, prioritizing emails, meditation and more.

You can read about them in detail in our article, How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide).

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Some of these methods have been discussed ad nauseam. But one method in particular hasn’t been talked about enough.

How to Stay Focused on Your Goals

Your Environment Is a Major Factor

Whether we want to admit it or not, all of us are mostly a product of our environment. Our environment impacts us far more than we realize.

It’s made of a multitude of things, from the space we live and work in, to the people we spend the most time with, to the things we read, listen to, and watch, to even our profiles on social media, and more.

All of these elements of our surroundings influence our focus, thoughts, mindset, belief systems, and the goals and standards we set for ourselves. They all serve as triggers for certain behaviors, tendencies, and moods. That’s how many of our habits are formed.

We’ll always take on aspects of the environments we continually place ourselves in.

Willpower and Motivation Is a Broken Approach

What a lot of people have gotten wrong about trying to achieve their goals is that they often focus only on what needs to be done and how to get it done – outcomes and willpower.

Many think that willpower and motivation in their own right determine success.

While both are great and necessary virtues to have to navigate this increasingly difficult world, willpower is largely a short-term solution, while motivation is great to get you started but is also fleeting.

This is one of the main reasons why so many people’s New Year’s resolutions go belly-up by the end of January.

Your willpower is like a muscle, which means it’s finite and will deplete with use. [2]

Using the willpower approach to stay focused on goals centers on increasing personal efforts to overcome the environment, not on modifying or changing the environment.

The harsh reality is that your environment is more powerful than your internal resolve. No matter how much discipline you have, eventually, you’ll succumb to your environment despite your greatest efforts.

Setting Yourself up for Success

In an environment that’s incompatible with your goals, its negative influence will sabotage your success.

On the other hand, a compatible environment is one of the most important strategies you can utilize to stay focused on achieving your goals.

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Creating an environment that is conducive to success will trigger your desired behaviors and, most importantly, will decrease distractions.

Inevitability Thinking

In fact, productivity expert Eben Pagan believes that designing the right environment will create conditions that make it impossible for you not to achieve your goals.

The multi-millionaire, entrepreneur, and investor regards this as the next evolution of goal-setting that will move us away from focusing on willpower and outcomes.

He calls this concept “Inevitability Thinking,” which is thinking and acting as if what you are doing is a foregone conclusion because you set up the conditions for it to happen.

What he means by “setting up the conditions for success” is designing an environment that’s conducive to you achieving your goals.

Building Your Environment

World-renowned leadership coach and author Dr. Marshall Goldsmith believes if a person doesn’t create and control their environment, then it will create and control them.

He suggests having a vision of achieving the goals you want to accomplish. Then, think about designing the structure of your environment, your situation, or your organization in a way that would organically bring that vision to life.

“If [you] can design your life [and] behaviors well, [you] don’t need to rely on willpower.” – BJ Fogg, Social Science Research Associate, Stanford [3]

“But I’m not a designer,” you might be thinking.

Don’t get intimidated, it can be done – by you or anyone! Designing or modifying your environment so you can better stay focused on your goals is not like designing spaceships – it’s not rocket science.

Here is how to make it happen.

How to Stay Focused on Your Goals: Designing Your Environment

1. Find the Environment That Supports Achieving Your Goals

Real progress occurs when we fully understand and align with what, whom, and where best support our goals.

So, the next time you’re in your environment, whether at or outside of work, try to pay attention to how you feel while you’re there. Note if that feeling changes when you leave that environment.

Examine your surroundings. Look at all the infrastructure and ask yourself these simple questions:

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  • Am I in an environment that’s conducive to me achieving my goals?
  • Is it detrimental to me maintaining my focus on my goals?
  • Is it on par with people who have already achieved what I want to achieve?

Also, examine your lifestyle and habits. Are you placing yourself in environments and situations that spark personal growth?

If the answers to these questions are anything but a definite and resounding yes, then you should seriously consider modifying or completely changing your surroundings.

The more you understand yourself, the more aware you’ll be of the environment that’s most likely to help you stay focused on your goals.

2. Let Your Goals, Not Distractions, Distract You

If you constantly lose focus on your goals, you pretty much render them useless. Distractions and interruptions are the biggest culprits of losing your focus.

One of the most practical ways to maintain focus is to allow your goals to constantly distract you.

You’ll inevitably lose focus from time to time. But you can limit the number of times it happens and the duration by facilitating your goals to distract you back to your focus.

Now, how do you do that?

It’s simple: make visual cues.

There’s a saying that if you don’t see it, you’ll probably forget it. Science agrees; the eyes hold the majority of sensory receptors in the human body. Therefore, the eye is a major component of focus.

The following cues are simply things that will trigger you to focus or refocus your attention back onto your goals.

What type to use will largely depend on what works for you, but below are a few common ones:

  • Tape your task list or habit tracker to your desk or onto your refrigerator at home.
  • Hang motivational posters at frequently visited sections of your house or workspace.
  • Post-Its – write your goals in a one or two-word phrase on them and stick where you’re sure to see them.
  • Set cues to constantly remind you to stick with your productive habits.
  • Digital devices – alter the screensavers of your computer, smartphones, tablets, or any other digital device you use regularly to display something about your goal.

Read more about how to stay focused on your goals: How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Personal Goals

3. Modify Your Inner Circle

Multiple studies have proven that our mindset, behaviors, and motivations are largely influenced by our peer group. Therefore, the people in our lives have an enormous impact on our ability to reach our goals.

“You are the average of the five people you associate with most…” – Tim Ferriss [4]

Since people have such a significant influence on the direction of your entire life, if you’re really serious about achieving your goals, you may have to adjust your inner circle. This is where designing or modifying your environment for success becomes tricky.

Unlike upgrading your iPhone, changing the makeup of your inner circle can be a lot more complex.

One of the most difficult things to do in life is to sever ties with friends, especially against their will, even if it’s for the betterment of the self.

It will likely foster resentment because it will require you to betray the very virtue that served as the keystone of the friendship in the first place: loyalty.

But we must remember that above all else, when we set important personal goals, we must be loyal to ourselves if we are to achieve them. Loyalty to friends, family, or even to your spouse that is detrimental to your success in life will only slow your growth.

By consciously deciding whom you want in your inner circle, you are taking control of the ultimate direction of your life.

4. Change Your Environment Completely

This method is the most extreme, but it can also be the most effective.

While modifying your environment for it to become less distracting is ideal, sometimes it’s just not enough. Certain elements in your environment, such as your social circle, are harder than others to modify. In fact, some elements that are nearly impossible to adjust.

There are times when these elements are so out of your control that the only thing you can do to stay focused on your goals is to make more radical and thorough changes. This can mean changing your environment completely.

Here are some examples of changes you could try to make (only if necessary):

  1. Change your physical possessions (ex.: get rid of your TV)
  2. Create a new virtual set-up (online)
  3. Change your physical workspace (work, home, co-working, cafes, etc.)
  4. Join a new social group
  5. Change locations (home, co-working space, café, etc.)
  6. Change jobs or switch branches
  7. Drop distracting friends or family from your inner circle.
  8. Change your spouse
  9. Move to a different country

Of course, these are some extreme steps to take. So, only resort to these if you have tried everything else to stay focused on your goals but are still unsuccessful.

Conclusion

If you’re struggling to figure out how to stay focused on your goals, it’s a lot harder to make a significant, lasting change without altering some elements of your environment.

By taking control of the set-up of your environment, you can influence your levels of motivation, enthusiasm, drive, and desire towards the goals you have set.

Optimizing your environment creates powerful conscious and subconscious motivators that make staying focused on your goals easier. And for many of us, easier is always better.

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More Tips on Goal Setting

Featured photo credit: Razvan Chisu via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Information Overload Research Group: The Cost of Not Paying Attention – How Interruptions Impact Knowledge Worker Productivity
[2] American Psychological Association Study: Willpower, choice, and self-control
[3] BJ Fogg on Twitter: @bjfogg
[4] GoodReads: Timothy Ferriss: Quotable Quotes

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