Highly Sensitive Leaders: What Are They Like?

The sensitive leader detects injustices in their work team and solves them. They know that emotional well-being is key in overcoming challenges and achieving goals.
Highly Sensitive Leaders: What Are They Like?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 12 December, 2021

Highly sensitive leaders are increasingly finding their way into today’s work environments. Indeed, gone are the aggressive executives, and the coercive commanding and demanding leaders. Times have changed, our needs are different, and it’s now recognized that leadership styles can make the difference as to whether businesses succeed or fail.

However, many people question the highly sensitive leader. In fact, high sensitivity is often associated with weakness and vulnerability in which doubts, mood swings, and even lack of resolution predominate.

For this reason, we must make it clear from the outset that highly sensitive leaders actually turn this particular quality into their greatest strength. These leaders aren’t weak. When making decisions, they understand the needs of the environment. They’re not insecure. They’re aware of the potential of their team and they guide them to achieve specific goals. Nor do they mimic the suffering of others. They’re people who are skilled and know how to inspire high ideals to overcome challenges and difficulties.

A sensitive leader is skilled in the emotional management of their team. Hence, they inspire them and guide them to achieve increasingly higher goals.

Employee with boss

Characteristics of sensitive leaders

High sensitivity is a superpower that these kinds of leaders know how to use. However, as a rule, highly sensitive people spend a large part of their life assuming that their way of being is problematic. In fact, they find it difficult to fit in, they feel things more intensely and, in general, the world seems an excessively noisy and harsh place.

For this reason, highly sensitive people often see the world of enterprise and business as environments that are overstimulating, stressful, too fast-paced, and overcompetitive. Nevertheless, when they get to know themselves a little better, they often discover that they possess traits that make them natural leaders.

Dr. Elaine N. Aron et al conducted research that claimed that this sensitivity of sensory processing in some people is also a way of promoting the survival of our species.

In fact, in the past, by being more receptive to their surroundings, these people were more aware of opportunities. This made it easier for them to be adept at obtaining food, detecting threats, and creating alliances with people in order to overcome difficulties.

Sensitivity is a psychosocial advantage. These people rely on their own abilities. Furthermore, far from being weaknesses, they’re tools for adaptation and survival.

Let’s see the characteristics that define these kinds of people.

They’re idealistic with strong moral and ethical convictions

Highly sensitive leaders are people with extremely clear ideals. They don’t possess minds that are solely committed to the objectives of the company. In fact, they’re defined by their knowledge of how to harmonize the goals of the organization with the emotional well-being of their team. This involves everything, from defending their rights to promoting their psychological well-being.

Furthermore, they have strong moral convictions, a good sense of justice, and promote an ethical, respectful, and motivating work style.

They’re good communicators

All good leaders demonstrate excellent communication skills. They know how to converse, reach agreements, practice active listening, and express what they want and expect in an assertive and respectful way. Consequently, an undeniable value of the highly sensitive leader is their great social influence on the company’s climate and their good communication skills.

They understand people’s needs

Highly sensitive leaders have an undoubted advantage. They’re extremely aware of the needs and emotional states of those around them. In fact, they can read between the lines. They perceive subtle changes, stress, attitudes that predict certain problems, and disharmony in work teams.

They possess a natural ability to read verbal and non-verbal communication

Highly sensitive leaders possess the ability to process more deeply the emotional aspects of workers. This allows them to prevent difficulties in the workplace. Added to this is their willingness to provide improvement strategies and to build more harmonious work environments.

Sensitive leaders are deep thinkers guided by their ideals and beliefs. They know how to defend their perspectives and detect difficulties in human teams before they even arise. They’re also skilled in knowing what the needs of their customers are.

They create more respectful, motivating, and happy work environments

In order to improve confidence in teams so that they can develop their full potential, emotional intelligence is required. Indeed, highly sensitive leaders are capable of creating emotionally nurturing work environments.

They’re always willing for their team to question, challenge and disagree with them in order to achieve more innovative solutions to problems. As a matter of fact, talent only germinates when there’s a favorable, dignified, respectful, and motivating social substrate.

Woman representing sensitive leaders

They possess initiative, creativity, and passion

Daniel Goleman describes in his book, The Emotionally Intelligent Leader (2009) a type of figure capable of delivering their knowledge, enthusiasm, creative drive, and empathy in a powerful and inspiring way. This kind of leadership is also present in the highly sensitive boss, in that close and transformative manager who brings so many benefits to a company.

A highly sensitive leader is someone who attunes to the emotional realities of their organization and directs their team in an emotionally positive direction for the common good. In addition, they’re visionaries with high creative and innovative skills. They know how to spread their passion and they reproduce it with their behavior. In other words, they don’t limit themselves by merely giving motivational speeches. They lead by example.

Finally, in an era of change and at a time when there are great social challenges on the horizon, we need leaders of a different kind. People with higher visions and deeper feelings. Indeed, the qualities of high sensitivity could, now more than ever, be the most important of all.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Acevedo, B. P., Aron, E. N., Aron, A., Sangster, M. D., Collins, N., & Brown, L. L. (2014). The highly sensitive brain: an fMRI study of sensory processing sensitivity and response to others’ emotions. Brain and behavior4(4), 580–594. https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.242
  • Baker, Cassandra. (2018). A Study of Emotional Intelligence and Self Leadership. SAM Advanced Management Journal. 82. 18-28.
  • Black, B.A., Kern, M.L. A qualitative exploration of individual differences in wellbeing for highly sensitive individuals. Palgrave Commun 6, 103 (2020).
  • Compare: Brungardt, C. L.; Gould, L. V.; Moore, R.; Potts, J. (1997). “The emergence of leadership studies: Linking the traditional outcomes of liberal education with leadership development”. The Journal of Leadership Studies. 4 (3): 53–67. doi:10.1177/107179199800400306
  • Daloz Parks, S. (2005). Leadership can be taught: A bold approach for a complex world. Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press.
  • Goleman, Daniel (2009) El líder resonante crea más. Madrid. Debolsillo

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.