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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 January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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