“That’s just the point: an honest and sensitive man opens his heart, and the man of business goes on eating – and then he eats you up.”
– Fyodor Dostoevsky
The year 2020 has started off with a bang and our world is upside down in many ways as COVID19 has brought us an unprecedented event, at least for many in our lifetimes, that has shaken the whole of the world as it has sought to respond by closing entire nations, desperately trying to provide for their citizenry, and reformulate and adapt their economies to reflect a new reality.
Caught up in this whirlwind, we highly sensitive people are perhaps better suited for such an event in some ways, especially concerning low sociability, for those of us who are more introverted, our innately cautious and careful nature, and so many of us already spend a good deal of time catastrophizing in our thinking. COVID19, for us, may not have been as devastating or imposing on our daily routines as for others because many of us have already considered these extreme possibilities. But there is a larger opportunity here to reflect and find meaning in this pandemic as it becomes clear that our trait, sensory processing sensitivity, is well-suited for such times in many regards. There is an opportunity here for a style of leadership that is based in service to others that I call “quiet leadership.”
Quiet leadership is rooted in servant leadership, not being servants in the sense of subordination, but in the sense of serving others through setting our egos aside and working to grow and develop the potential of other people. Quiet leadership in 2020 provides a stage for actors who would otherwise be invisible to become visible and to have an impact on the world. I posted a terrific article on my FaceBook page @tracycooperphd about now being a time for Bodhisattvas to spread blessings and alleviate suffering. Bodissattvas are described in Buddhist teachings as individuals who have vowed to live with dignity and courage, while radiating compassion wherever they might be. The quiet leaders, very simply, are the Bodhisattvas who are willing to step up and take it upon themselves to operate from love and understanding, rather than from ego and opportunistic personal interests.
Quiet leadership is a style of leadership that I feel many HSPs may feel comfortable embodying because it does not ask that you be the center of attention, nor that you make all the choices, or operate in an aggressive and domineering way. Rather, quiet leadership amplifies what is likely already your preferred way of mentoring and guiding others: through helping them realize the abilities and talents already within themselves that just need fertile ground in which to bloom. We quiet leaders provide that lush loamy garden spot for others to grow and become what they are capable of, while still reaching our goals and deriving great meaning from how we choose to embody leadership.
Sensitive men, as I have come to know them through my work mentoring and educating them on their traits, already lead from a heart-centered perspective, as opposed to a desire for power or control. It is not enough to just lead from the head; we must lead from the head AND heart! If this pandemic shows us anything, it is that purely linear approaches to leading people are efficient but fail to acknowledge the complexities and nuances of real life for real people. We sensitive men will pull the levers of power, but it will be in a different way that empowers and sustains others, while creating the next generation of leaders.
The current moment asks of us that we lead from the heart and head to ensure that our efforts are fair and equitable in a time of mass uncertainty. Further, that we fulfill our need for living our lives in a meaningful way that does not take for granted our finite time in this life. The spiritual dimension of quiet leadership accomplishes several important elements that we know, from Self-Determination Theory, are essential to well-being and flourishing:
- Autonomy – to oversee one’s life and feel in sync with one’s integrated self.
- Competence – to be in control of outcomes and have a mastery of skills, abilities, and talents.
- Relatedness – a drive to connect with others and experience prosocial bonding and caring for others.
Self-Determination Theory further tells us that it is intrinsic motivation that truly provides meaning in life because when we are powered by our chosen interests and activities, the efforts become worth doing for their own sake and not for external reasons. Intrinsic motivation is the essence of so much in life that is worthwhile, fulfilling, and personally relevant and meaningful. In this time of quiet leadership the many Bodhisattvas hand out food to the hungry, howl or applaud at 7pm, and otherwise keep things together at a time when other leadership styles simply seek to return to their “normal” as quickly as possible.
My experience as a quiet leader working with HSPs, HSS/HSPs, HS men, and creatives of all types has been complimented by my simultaneous work with graduate students in my other career at Baker University, where I am a program chairman and faculty member. During my time in higher education, I have had to address how to bring my temperament and its’ rich potentialities to bear as a teacher for students who are often anxious, bored, or overwhelmed and tired from their daily lives. Teaching in an online environment has further challenged me to develop specific strategies for connecting with students and encouraging engagement. I have found that guiding and mentoring students has added to the richness of my life as I relate quite well to their feelings of anxiety, while knowing what it takes to achieve an academic goal.
The patient guidance and mentoring that we quiet leaders can provide is relevant in a pandemic and anytime as people will always need heart and head centered leadership. We sensitive men are in a special position to positively effect change in our cultures and embody the best of what it means to be sensitive and distinctly different than the average leader. Events may overtake us at times, but the quiet leaders are there to remind us of our humanity and shared commonalities. In an age of uncertainty for so many, quiet leadership may emerge as a unique leadership style that allows those of us who would never be heard from otherwise to shine!