Highly sensitive people (HSPs) have an accommodating temperament combined with a quiet confidence that makes them ideal for most leadership positions. They are sensitive to the needs of others and transparent in their concern for everyone’s welfare. This helps them elicit support and cooperation from people of diverse backgrounds and personalities, who come to trust them implicitly.  

A highly sensitive person will not actively campaign for a leadership position, in the workplace or anywhere else. In general, they aren’t the type to toot their own horns or engage in excessive self-promotion.

However, a highly sensitive person will not deny their interest in assuming leadership if an opportunity arises. HSPs know they possess some critically important traits that can make them effective organizational or team leaders. They feel a responsibility to their co-workers, colleagues, or companions to accept this type of challenge when they’re certain they can get the job done.

Upon deeper investigation, it’s possible to identify seven distinctive characteristics of HSP leaders that help move them to the top of the class:

#1 They believe in constructive motivation

When a highly sensitive person assumes leadership, they are steadfast in their determination to facilitate everyone’s best performance. They are excited by people’s potential and strive to foster an environment where everyone is encouraged to try new things and stretch their wings.

No one who works with an HSP leader will have to worry about being scolded or reprimanded if they make a mistake. A highly sensitive person is so naturally compassionate and empathetic that they feel legitimately bad when other people struggle or fail. When this happens under their leadership they will try to lift their team member’s spirits by offering supportive words and helpful advice.

For a highly sensitive person, the concept of motivation through fear and intimidation is absurd and degrading. They could never be convinced that is the proper way to proceed, since it violates all of their principles about how you should interact and engage with your fellow human beings.

#2 They are relentless when striving for consensus

A highly sensitive person who ascends to a leadership role will make an extraordinary effort to achieve consensus among their team before moving forward with any plan or before making a final decision. They make sure that everyone’s opinion is given fair consideration and they never shut down discussion or debate prematurely.

HSP leaders are genuinely interested in hearing other people’s insights. As a result, their team members or co-workers never feel like they’re being humored or patronized when asked to provide their input. Within a short time they come to realize their HSP leader’s approach to consensus-building is truly democratic in both its conception and execution.

Despite their inclination to seek unanimous agreement, highly sensitive leaders know this won’t be possible in every instance. At some point, if consensus is lacking they will proceed anyway, reluctantly, although they won’t feel great about doing it.

#3 They prize creativity and encourage it every day

No one who works under the leadership of a highly sensitive person has to worry about having their creative instincts stifled.

HSPs have a tremendously high regard for creative people, and consequently, they frequently encourage those they work with to push the envelope, think outside the box, and go against the grain whenever possible. They’re always looking for newer, better, and more innovative solutions, and they see everyone as a potential source for fresh ideas.

Under an HSP leader, an organizational environment will be both exciting and unpredictable, in the best sense of the latter word. A highly sensitive leader will also have a healthy respect for tradition, and would never abandon it just for the sake of doing something different. But when they’re convinced someone has come up with a bold new concept or methodology that can help the organization or team function more effectively, they won’t hesitate to make a change sooner rather than later.

#4 They listen to others with real interest and sincere intent

One highly admirable characteristic of the highly sensitive person is that they know how to keep their egos in check. Consequently, they aren’t afraid to change course or alter their viewpoint if an associate makes a convincing argument for an alternative perspective.

Almost all leaders will claim to be open-minded and flexible. But too many will only pretend to adopt such an attitude, and in the end they will do what they wanted to do all along.

In contrast, a highly sensitive person simply isn’t capable of adopting a cynical or authoritarian stance. They have too much respect for the wisdom of others to ever be so narrow-minded or manipulative. Their sincerity in this regard always shines through, which helps create a healthy and sustainable team dynamic.

#5 They treat everyone with respect, all the time

Highly sensitive people want others to respect their needs and to treat them with dignity at all times, and as firm believers in the golden rule, that is exactly how they behave toward the people around them.

HSPs make caring and sensitive leaders, in part because they’re inspired by the example set by the great leaders they’ve encountered during their various journeys and adventures. They see it as their obligation to be as respectful of others as the best people in their lives were to them.

On the other hand, they are determined not to replicate any abuse they may have received at the hands of inconsiderate and disrespectful employers, managers, or team leaders if they’ve been exposed to such individuals. They hold onto their memories of how they felt in the presence of those people to make sure they don’t engage in what, from their perspective, is disgusting and disgraceful behavior.

#6 They are lightning-quick to settle disputes and soothe hurt feelings

HSPs dislike conflict and will try to avoid it whenever possible. This is certainly true when a potential disagreement might affect them directly, and they really don’t care to spend time around others who are arguing or sniping at each other, either.

But when leading teams or groups, they realize disputes and tensions are inevitable. They also know these situations must be addressed rapidly, before they escalate past the point of no return. A highly sensitive person in a leadership role will be far too conscientious to shirk their duties or postpone uncomfortable tasks. If a conflict arises between team members they will be tireless and relentless in their efforts to resolve the issue in a way that permanently ends the conflict and is satisfactory for all parties involved.

As mediators, HSPs are fair-minded and balanced, refusing to pick favorites or play the blame game. Highly sensitive leaders are outraged by injustice, however, and if one team member has clearly been mistreated by another, they won’t hesitate to exile the individual who was in the wrong.

#7 Above all, they put the needs of the team above their own

There are many things that can make a highly sensitive person feel uncomfortable. They can be bothered by too much sensory stimulation, such as excessive noise, bright lights, powerful odors, or too much activity in the surrounding environment. Their feelings can be easily hurt, and they can let the impact of a rude or insensitive comment linger for hours or even days. Their sense of empathy is so well developed that they can be deeply affected by the physical, emotional, or psychological suffering of others, especially if the person hurting is someone close.

Their undeniable sensitivity could make many question whether HSPs are really well-suited for leadership positions. An organization of any size or description will likely attract a diverse group of people who have different attitudes, perspectives, and personalities. A highly sensitive person in a leadership position will have to deal with this, regardless of how it might impact them or leave them vulnerable to sensory or emotional overload.

However, while HSPs are sensitive they are also diligent, committed, and responsible to a fault. They understand the ways their sensitivity might limit them, and they will do whatever they have to do to adapt.

A highly sensitive person in a leadership position will invest the time and energy required to get to know the other members of their team as people. They will learn as much as they can about how each person thinks and behaves and what their personal preferences might be. A highly sensitive leader will be deeply engaged with everyone, asking thoughtful questions while also sharing information about themselves.

HSP leaders rely on their natural empathy to build bridges of mutual understanding and respect. They channel the best part of their sensitivity into their leadership activities, working around their discomforts if necessary to make sure they don’t compromise the team’s performance in any way.

Nathan Falde
Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.