A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
One of the common misperceptions about Highly Sensitive People is that they make poor if not reluctant leaders. It's not that they don't have the chops to be good leaders; it's more like they would rather avoid the hassles of leadership altogether and get on with their work in a solitary and workmanlike manner.
There are challenges for HSPs in leadership positions, especially in high-profile and large organizations. The weight from enormous pressure, the constant bombardment of expectations, and the steady flux of amplified and dynamic objectives would overwhelm almost anyone and could easily drown an HSP. The drain of our energy, the hassles of always dealing with people, and the weight of managing would seem to erode our strength. It’s no wonder many HSPs shy away from leadership roles.
Besides, the traditional industrial leadership models of the 19th and 20th centuries, with its' adherence to top-down authority, would have little appeal to highly sensitive people who would prefer more egalitarian and cooperative methods of leading others. The latter half of the twentieth century began to see the implementation and development of more humanistic leadership styles, styles that would be more authentic, empathetic, and appealing to HSPs.
Today, more companies follow these new leadership models that would make it easier for HSPs to become effective and compassionate leaders. Let's look at some of the options available and compare them to the older traditional models.
What are the options?
First, traditional styles or top-down models of leadership emphasize a more autocratic and perhaps more bureaucratic model for leadership. These types of leadership styles place enormous focus on the top of the leadership chain. The boss is the boss. Autocratic styles focus on the person at the top who generally has command and control of the whole enterprise. The focus here is on results and efficiency – very machine-like.
On the other extreme -Laissez-faire or hands-off management styles, while seemingly giving more control to the workers, delegates the results to others while providing little or no supervision. This style depends on accountability, creativity, and autonomy. Many HSPs might find the delegation part appealing, but this may create distance between the leader and the employees, not fostering rapport with the leader. Like managing from a castle turret, surveying the serfs plow the fields in the distance below the disconnect would be obvious to HSPs.
The Pacesetter leadership model is a performance and goal-oriented leadership style, which can be pushy and lead to stressed-out staff. The emphasis on fast-paced results and hard-driving staff objectives. Do you see a pattern here? More focus on the goal and less on staff wellbeing and empathy. Again a less compassionate style of management.
Still, another performance-oriented leadership model is the transactional leadership model. If you like to micromanage, you are into the corporate structure, focused on metrics, and like staying focused on short-term objectives; this might be your style. However, I suspect many HSPs wouldn't like this either.
The above management styles are more traditional, emphasizing top-down management, not very receptive or open, not very emotionally aware, and certainly not focused on staff wellbeing. These styles don't appeal to creative thinking or real independence, out-of-the-box thinking, or as one CIO I had worked for once said, 'following forward' thinking. These traditional styles are more tactical, short term, lack supportiveness, and empathy. They are more “me boss, you employee”, which means what the boss says is the law, and you had best be compliant and obedient. Perhaps, a gross oversimplification, but still lacking heart.
Newer More Open Styles of Leadership (Humanistic)
The newer leadership styles focus on a more democratic, participative, and more cooperative leadership style that I think would appeal to more HSPs. These styles range from Transformational Leadership models, Servant Styles of leadership, and Authentic Leadership models.
Transformational Leadership Style
This style of leadership is all about inspiring your teams to achieve and reach their untapped potential. As the name implies, it is about transforming and exceeding team expectations and perceptions of their capabilities. This leadership style often requires a charismatic leader who invokes inspiring goals, energizes the team by example, and provides challenging objectives. These leaders often maintain high ideals of ethics and morality, cooperation and harmony, authenticity, and freedom of choice. All the outcomes of this style would promote an environment that would play well with HSPs, although I wonder if this is a leadership style that many HSPs might adopt. The energy levels needed to keep the team inspired might challenge many low energy HSPs, and the drain emotionally could be problematic.
Servant Style Leadership
The next leadership style is perhaps the most empathetic of the leadership styles surveyed, Servant Leadership. In Servant Leadership, the leader's primary goal, not surprisingly, is to serve. The servant leader puts the employees first, creates an environment for employee development, and encourages them to perform at their best. This management style was pioneered by Robert K. Greenleaf, who was inspired in an almost spiritual way to create this model by making the leader the servant of the team. The theory is that the team will be inspired by and motivated to serve themselves, thus creating an environment of service, each helping the other.
Terms often associated with this leadership style are altruistic, healing, wisdom, stewardship, honesty, trust, integrity, and empowerment. Now we are getting into the wheelhouse of HSPs. This empathetic and compassionate model results seem to impact employee life, goal achievement, success, and, most importantly, engagement. Most impressive about this model is the effect on the environment – a receptive, open, and accepting work landscape.
What are the qualities that make an excellent Servant leader? The ability to listen and show great empathy, promote healing and awareness, use persuasion instead of coercion, promote a long-term vision, show intuition and foresight. The servant leader is a steward of the organization, committed to the staff's growth and edification, and works to build community. Wow! Where do I sign up?
Authentic Leadership Style
Another new leadership style is called Authentic leadership. I like this already. Authentic leaders are positive individuals that display self-awareness, transparency, balance, and a consistent moral foundation that influences decisions and actions. Authentic leaders tend to be more optimistic and display hope and resiliency. Authentic leaders often take the strategic view of goals (vision), maintain a steady helming of the organization, show a certain impeccability of character, know themselves and their values, and strip bare to be transparent as possible to those they lead. These core values represent integrity and open communication. They lead by example.
Authentic leadership seems to me to more a personal style of accountability than an organizational steering model. I like it as an HSP because it embodies the characteristics, I aspire to myself. Perhaps the model of attributes an authentic leader needs to motivate and lead a conscious and self-aware organization effectively makes this more appealing to me as an HSP.
Taking the Best of Servant and Authentic Styles
Both Servant and Authentic leadership models seem more twenty-first century, more modern, more humanistic than the older traditional models. They reflect what I see as HSP values. Perhaps the two are slightly different aspects of a new and, shall I say it – sensitive and empathetic management model. The overlap is quite pronounced. Yet, one seems to empathize the leader's role; the other emphasizes the new style leader's qualities. Both seem right for our times, and both seem right for HSPs.
Can HSPs become influential leaders by adopting some of the new empathetic leadership styles?
Yes, I do think HSPs can and should be influential leaders. What we do well is to be nurturing, intuitive and empathetic people. Generally, we are excellent in one-on-one situations – coaching and mentoring. But can we step up to leading larger groups of people? As leaders, do we create the environment best for us, or do we gently mold a lousy environment to our liking and others' benefit? In the right places, we thrive; in the wrong environment, we struggle.
Yet, I believe influential HSP leaders show up in the right places at the right times. We have all the qualities of authentic leaders. We have the same motivations as the ideal servant leader. The time is now for HSP leaders to arise. Dr. Tracy Cooper refers to this perfect blend of HSP mindset, authenticity, and Servant leadership as Quiet Leadership. He proffers the idea that the time is right for us to take on this role. He is right.
To be sure, all HSPs are not inherently leaders, which is fine. No population has all leaders with no followers. And many HSPs, no matter what style of leadership, don't want the hassle that leadership brings. It is, after all, a lot of responsibility and added pressure. But there are many HSPs out there who can make a difference in business, politics, academia, and in life if given the right encouragement. It's just confidence meeting the right environment.
Let me end with a few closing notes. One assumption that we see in all these styles is that all that is needed is the right leader, and an organization will miraculously thrive and grow. Even when the leader fosters a supportive environment, the employees must also be willing to buy in, and not all will. Call it organizational cynicism or burnout on new leaders, but a leader and organization dynamic must be in sync and harmony.
Another question is that the higher the interpersonal style, the subsequent effectiveness may be influenced by organization size. Smaller organizations may adapt more quickly to the Servant leadership model over larger, more bureaucratic, more diffused environments. Think one leader, many employees, means less direct interaction, less influence.
Any of the humanistic models must be authentically emplaced within the organization. That means two downs, three downs, and beyond must be authentic as well. Otherwise, it becomes less real and more "management by airline magazine or mandate from on high." Organizations will see through that immediately.
Finally, at the end of the day, like it or not, organizations that are profit-centered must strive for profitability or, as they say, perish. As idealistic as I am, this can't be only about being an awareness retreat. Nobody will be feeling good when the organization goes bankrupt. Business goals must be met, and I don't see that changing any time soon. Nevertheless, there needs to be a blend of business, organization dynamics, and humanity. John Rockefeller meets Carl Rogers.
Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
Bill Allen currently lives in Lutz, Florida. He previously lived in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.