Sensitive People Aren't Weak, They're Actually Natural-Born Leaders

by John Haltiwanger

Sensitivity is perhaps the most underrated quality in the world. It's too often associated with fragility and weakness when it's actually a tremendous strength.

Sensitive people are insightful and intelligent enough both to recognize and comprehend their own emotions. They're also courageous enough to exhibit them in public.

Many of us would rather live in denial than acknowledge vulnerability. In turn, we never conquer our greatest fears and inner obstacles.

The world needs more people with sensitive souls, as they're innately self-aware and empathetic. Individuals with these qualities are natural leaders.

Good leaders possess a high degree of emotional intelligence. They understand both themselves and others, which is a product of their own sensitivity.

You can't lead others if you don't know yourself.

The importance of being a self-aware leader is perhaps best captured via the Latin proverb:

It is absurd that a man should rule others, who cannot rule himself.

If you don't have a sound understanding of your inner workings and what drives your decisions then you won't be in a strong position to guide others.

Finding yourself is a matter of coming to terms with your emotions and what dictates them. It requires ruthless honesty about your feelings. It requires sensitivity.

Being a leader isn't about holding a certain position or station, it's defined by whether or not you help people feel a little less lost in this crazy journey we call life.

But you can't help others find their way in the world when you're still searching for yourself.

Individuals with a strong sense of self are more confident and practical and naturally inspire others to trust them.

They also know how to laugh at themselves, which helps maintain both perspective and sanity.

Daniel Goleman has written extensively on emotional intelligence and leadership. His research has shown emotionally intelligent individuals are decidedly more suited for leadership.

In his words:

Self-awareness is the first component of emotional intelligence. Self-awareness means having a deep understanding of one's emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs and drives. People with strong self-awareness are neither overly critical nor unrealistically hopeful. Rather, they are honest — with themselves and with others.

Poor leadership is a consequence of insecurity, inauthenticity and close-mindedness. These qualities often cause people to be cruel toward others. When you don't understand or like yourself, the people around you become scapegoats.

Sensitive people have an extreme advantage in this regard, as they are deeply cognizant of their emotions and identity. This is precisely why they're well suited for leadership.

You can't lead without empathy.

Think about the worst bosses you've ever had.

Chances are they were egotistical, terrible at listening and deeply insecure.

They likely never exhibited compassion for others and were completely self-absorbed. Consequently, they made you miserable and worse at your job.

Ernest Hemingway once stated:

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.

Great leaders are great listeners. They listen with empathy, sincerely attempting to put themselves in the other person's shoes.

Concurrently, they build trust, alleviate discontentment and help catalyze solutions to various problems and grievances.

There's a preponderance of evidence employees are more content when they have compassionate and empathetic bosses.

Correspondingly, research shows happy employees are more productive, creative and collaborative.

In other words, compassionate leadership is universally beneficial.

As Emma Seppälä, Science Director at Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, highlights:

Managers may shy away from compassion for fear of appearing weak. Yet history is filled with leaders who were highly compassionate and very powerful -- Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu, to name a few. They were such strong and inspiring leaders that people would drop everything to follow them.

Indeed, contrary to popular opinion, true leaders are not domineering and stoic, but cooperative and emotionally open.

The world would be a decidedly better place if more people in positions of leadership were sensitive, empathetic and compassionate.

As the Dalai Lama once contended:

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.

Human suffering is frequently caused by an inability to entertain the perspectives and feelings of others.

If we truly desire to progress as a species, we need to embrace our own emotions while seeking to understand the sentiments of others.

The greatest leaders understand compassion lifts the spirits of both those who give and receive it.

Citations: What Makes a Leader (HBR), Three Ways Leaders Can Listen with More Empathy (HBR), Why Humble Empathic Business Leaders Are More Successful (Huffington Post ), Compassionate Leaders are Effective Leaders (GGSC), Why Compassion in Business Makes Sense (Huffington Post ), Empathy and Compassion The Awesome Sauce (Huffington Post )