How to Thrive as a Highly Sensitive Leader

A highly sensitive leader walks with her work colleagues

Even though society leads us to believe that sensitivity is a weakness, sensitive people have scientifically-proven traits that make them talented leaders.

Leaders are typically known for their strength and fortitude to lead teams through change and challenge. However, did you know that many great leaders are actually highly sensitive? If you are naturally observant, empathetic, intuitive, and creative, you might be a highly sensitive person (HSP) — or at least have some HSP characteristics. When these HSP traits are embraced and protected, they can supercharge your leadership capabilities.

In fact, sensitive people have scientifically-proven traits that make them talented leaders. An HSP is not someone who is sensitive in the traditional way that we think about sensitivity. If you say something constructive or offensive to an HSP, they won’t necessarily just break down and get upset (like society tends to lead us to believe).

Rather, HSPs are actually sensitive to energy and stimuli — sensitive to people, their environment(s), emotion, and intuition (to name a few). It’s estimated that nearly 30 percent of the population is highly sensitive in this way. Additionally, many people who are not highly sensitive still possess some HSP traits.

Understanding You Are an HSP Can Help You Embrace Your Sensitivities 

When I started leading teams at work, I could sense other peoples’ emotions and energy and how they felt. This helped me to quickly see how team dynamics could flow smoothly in order to accomplish goals efficiently. 

Although my team told me that I was a great leader, I often could not fulfill my own high expectations. Too often, I suffered from burnout after taking on too much work. 

I have always been extremely observant, noticing changes in the office environment or faint sounds that seem out of place. I didn’t know about my trait of being an HSP until very recently, when I read an article about it and then took a quiz to measure my sensitivity on a spectrum. There are many quizzes you can take to measure where you are on the HSP spectrum. The quiz revealed that I am an HSP-empath, one of the most extreme kinds of HSPs.

So, why is it important to know if you are an HSP or have some HSP traits? 

After learning that I was an HSP, I was able to understand my sensitivities, embrace the trait, and set the conditions for my success at work.

Here is a guide for how to embrace your HSP traits, as well as protect your energy as a highly sensitive leader.  

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3 Benefits of Being an HSP Leader 

1. You are deeply mission-driven and see the deeper purpose behind tasks.

Because HSPs have a vibrant inner voice and inner world, it’s natural to connect to our “why” — our purpose for doing work. Our sensitivity trait makes us extremely passionate and dedicated to our mission. We produce high-quality work with attention to detail. When we find the right career path, the work we do feels as though it’s a part of our personal calling.

While other people might procrastinate, our strong connection to our work makes it natural to follow through with goals and tasks because they really mean something to us. As leaders, we can authentically rally a team around the mission and motivate people to accomplish collective goals as a team.

2. You can see people’s strengths and how systems work.

Highly sensitive people are attuned to the energy of other people and are extremely observant. We pick up on how others like to work and use their natural talents. While someone else might perceive someone’s reluctance to do a task as normal, we look deeper: We notice whether this person might need additional training, more direction, or if they would be more motivated by a different assignment. 

As a leader, this enables HSPs to identify strengths and interests of team members. We see how the individual strengths fit best as a whole system to accomplish goals efficiently and happily.

HSP brains also have an abundance of active mirror neurons, which helps to understand others’ emotions. This makes us a master of clear communication and conflict resolution. Teams work in harmony when managed by emotionally-intelligent HSPs.

3. You are creative and solution-centric.  

Another valuable trait of HSPs is that we are always challenging the status quo. We strive to do things the best way, not just the way that things have always been done. We see more options and we are open-minded about how to approach challenges. 

If someone else has an idea, we listen and take time to think through how their new idea could be incorporated to improve the current approach. (No room for egos here!)

Creativity is also an important HSP trait to have when leading a team, because this allows you to evolve and grow along with the business or organization. Being creative deep thinkers, we enjoy making new connections — and we can often see solutions that others might rule out or ignore.

Even though there are many benefits that come with being an HSP leader, there are some challenges, as well. 

Need to Calm Your Sensitive Nervous System? 

HSPs often live with high levels of anxiety, sensory overload and stress — and negative emotions can overwhelm us. But what if you could finally feel calm instead?

That’s what you’ll find in this powerful online course by Julie Bjelland, one of the top HSP therapists in the world. You’ll learn to turn off the racing thoughts, end emotional flooding, eliminate sensory overload, and finally make space for your sensitive gifts to shine.

Stop feeling held back and start to feel confident you can handle anything. Check out this “HSP Toolbox” and start making a change today. Click here to learn more.

3 Challenges of Being an HSP Leader 

1. You have trouble setting boundaries and tend to take on too much.

Being an HSP leader does come with its fair share of challenges. When working in the corporate world, I always felt as though it was hard to set boundaries. HSPs usually have trouble saying “no” and often revert to people-pleasing tendencies. This can result in taking on too much work or serving as the emotional vent for people at work.

In order to protect energy and time, highly sensitive people must learn how to set boundaries with their schedule, and kind, honest communication. It’s not that we don’t like people. However, alone time is important (and necessary) for us, so finding time throughout the day for solo walks or personal breaks helps to protect our energy. 

2. You feel drained by typical work environments.

Whether working at home or in an office, a typical work environment has a lot going on. There is technology. There is noise. While staying busy is good, the intense stimulation from the work environment can be energetically draining for an HSP, who takes in all of the stimuli very deeply. This is where environmental psychology comes into play, catering your environment(s) to your HSP needs.

For instance, finding a quiet space to do individual work is essential, as well as making your work space calming and nourishing for your energy. Single-tasking, too, can be beneficial to HSPs versus trying to focus on 101 things at once.

3. You are frustrated by lack of emotional intelligence and mindfulness.

Highly sensitive souls are very attuned to the emotions of others, and even take on the emotional weight of others’ feelings. We also retreat from animosity and avoid interpersonal conflict as much as possible. 

When people at work are not mindful about how they communicate, acknowledge others, or cause animosity, we feel it deeply. It can quickly become a focus point and negatively impact our productivity and focus.

When we work with unethical people — or people who don’t align with our values — we feel this impact in our core, as well. While it might seem like we are impulsive, we actually just sense (and feel) things sooner than other people, so we are able to act on things intuitively a bit faster. (As HSPs, our intuition is top-notch!)

Finding self-care practices (walks, exercise, meditation, and the like) and the right team — with high ethical standards and mindful behavior — is essential for success as an HSP leader.

HSP Leaders Are Essential for a Kinder, More Sensitive World

Serving as a leader in a world that is not necessarily built for sensitive people can be challenging. However, it’s most important to focus on the pluses — you have many positive, powerful HSP traits that will carry you and make you unique, and effective, as a leader. Any challenges should not stop you from following your calling.

Ultimately, if you are someone who is an HSP or possesses HSP traits, you can add a ton of value as an HSP leader. Ask yourself: How do I harness my HSP traits at work? How do I cultivate the conditions for success as an HSP, to proactively face any challenges that come up? What can I do even better?

If you are not an HSP, but you are building a team, it’s worth considering how an HSP might add value to your team or organization. How do you cultivate the conditions for HSP leaders to thrive, not just survive? Ask yourself this a lot — every day — and you will soon see, and reap, the benefits. 

In my book, Awake Leadership, learn a system and exercises for thriving as an HSP leader. 

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