“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!
Empowering the Sensitive Male Soul
Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career
Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person
Anjana A P says
Excellent read! Below line is so meaningful:
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.
Though I may not fall into the category of HSP, am an advocate of servant leadership.
Gerri Chizeck says
Thank you for this. I have always used the term quiet leadership for myself, but never seen it written about this way
This is a welcoming post to those who are HSPs. I am an hsp woman and am still deeply encouraged by this article. I also agree that in a time such as now, we need the Quiet Leader.
Thank you for these words!
Beautiful! And wise!
And so true.
Yes I am certain that we make a difference.
But I ask myself if it is enough? Will the world ever change?
“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.”
Just to footnote here: ‘Sensitive women’ are part and parcel of this so-called, “special position”, no???!
Yeah i felt this too. Seems very much ‘male HSP’ power potential, omitting any reference to female HSP potential… would it not be more appropriate to not refer to gender given the statements being relevant to either gender?
Phyllis Dalley says
Agree fully. as women we are already excluded from leadership in many places, to be excluded from discussions of quiet leadership is … disquieting.
The author isn’t excluding women any more than a math problem excludes the English language. The article is about highly sensitive men. Why would there be an inherent necessity to reference women in an article about highly sensitive men?
The title of the article is Quiet Leadership. There is no indication that the audience is male, yet the continual reference to “man”. Otherwise I really do like and resonate with it. But as a woman who is a quiet leader, this really throws me off. If it was written for a predominantly male audience, there needs to be a preamble to this article on this webpage to clarify.
Yes please, I got so irritated reading this between and not so between the lines… Hope this comments get to him somehow and he can maybe adjust the article or make another post about this topic…
Ana R Meza says
Quiet leadership that offers guidance and mentoring as a service to others….the idea resonated with me. I emerge in quiet leadership when I am asked for my advice. Otherwise, my sensitivity and intuition will prompt me to initiate action in the service of others.
This blog was just what I needed. I to am a “Quiet Leader”. Thank you for helping me to on the journey to understanding who I am and why I am!
Abhinav Bhardwaj says
Thank you for writing a great article, Dr Tracy Cooper. “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.” – I identify myself as a highly sensitive man and agree that we open our hearts to everything we touch ( considering it matches our interests or intentions).
I believe the world needs more sensitive leaders who lead not from the head, as you said, but from the power of their hearts (desire to serve others)
Leslie J. Altamirano says
Very well written Article:) Very moving, with so much Truth:)
I am in a leadership position in higher education; however, I am not part of a traditional university setting. I find my leadership style, which is as you stated above, to be in conflict with our highest administration. I have been questioning whether this is the career choice for me but now my perspective has shifted and I’m wondering if I am simply in the wrong setting. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, perhaps new bath water would be sufficient.
KELLY, O-M-G SISTER!!!!
I LOOOOOVE THAT!!!!…
“Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, perhaps new bath water would be sufficient.”
Girl, I’m not SURE if this is a saying or quote that I just haven’t heard before/yet, or if this is something that YOU made up/changed the words, to suit your particular situation, BUT THAT HIT ME HAAAARD!!…& IN A PROFOUND WAY!!!
I CAN DEFINITELY NOW UNDERSTAND WHY YOU’VE BEEN PUT/EMPLOYED IN THIS POSITION OF LEADERSHIP…Weather your employed as a teacher, manager, or WHATEVER your “title” may be sis…ONE THING IS FOR SURE…IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY, AS WELL AS GREATLY COMPENSATED ($$$$$$) WHERE YOU ARE/WERE, THEN YOU MUST MOVE FORWARD AS SOON AS A NEW OPPORTUNITY PRESENTS ITSELF TO YOU!!! BECAUSE WHAT YOU ADD TO YOUR EMPLOYMENT, ADD TO YOUR POSITION, ADD & GIVE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR WISDOM & KNOWLEDGE TO THE BUSINESS, TO YOUR BOSS, TO CLIENTS, AND EVEN TO CO-WORKERS, IS (NO offense to anyone else!!) ABSOLUTELY FAAAAAAAR BEYOND WHAT ANYONE ELSE WHOM MAY BE “AVERAGE”, OR “JUST THERE FOR A PAYCHECK”, WOULD BE WILLING TO GIVE OF THEMSELVES!
PLUS, I HAVE A SUSPICION THAT YOU DON’T JUST COME TO WORK, CLOCK IN, just to wait there & CLOCK OUT at the end of your shift, & RECEIVE A CHECK AT THE END OF THE PAY PERIOD…I HAVE A FEELING THAT YOU TRULY “GIVE OF YOURSELF” & “GIVE” A PIECE OF YOU, THAT OTHERS DON’T/CAN’T/DON’T KNOW HOW TO, (IN FACT, YOU GIVE OF YOURSELF, & GIVE A PIECE OF YOURSELF, WITH ANY JOB, & EVEN RELATIONSHIPS!!!) AND BECAUSE OF THAT, BECAUSE YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO GET THOSE PIECES BACK ONCE THEY’RE GONE, & BECAUSE THAT WILL DRAIN YOUR BODY & SOUL DOING IT, THEN YOU MUUUUUST LEAVE THERE, & LEAVE ALLLLLLLL JOBS THAT DON’T GIVE BACK TO YOU WHAT UUUUUUUU MUST REQUIRE, & WHAT YOU NEED FROM YOUR JOB.
Look Sis, IF YOU ARE GOING TO BE EMPLOYED SOMEWHERE, (& EVEN WHEN YOUR IN A RELATIONSHIP!!) OR WHEN YOUR INVOLVED WITH AAAAANYTHING EVEN IF IT’S VOLUNTEER (Which you SHOULD do from time to time!!), YOU MUUUUUUUST BE HAPPY. U MUST BE APPRECIATED FOR WHAT U GIVE OF YOURSELF, U MUST BE/FEEL FULFILLED, U MUST BE ABLE TO BE 100% “YOU”/BE YOURSELF. U MUST BE COMPENSATED HAAAAAANDSOMELY, & IF IT’S SOMETHING YOU AREN’T BEING COMPENSATED FOR (such as a volunteer position) THEN YOU MUST BE PAID IN HAPPINESS AND YOU MUST BE FULLFILLED IN A MANNER WHICH IS NON-MONETARY-BUT WHICH IS STILL SOOOOOOO FULFILLING, & IMPORTANT, (Maybe it’s NOT even money that you found/got out of that specific volunteer work, BUT maybe you became humble, or became MORE humble THAN U WERE BEFORE going into that event/position that day, & you had totally FORGOTTEN about how it use to feel to be in a particular predicament/situation!! THAT’S HAPPENED TO ME TOO!!!)….Anyways, it has to be WORTH IT THAT YOU’D TOTALLY 100% VOLUNTEER FOR THE POSITION/COMPANY/ORG/NON-PROFIT, etc, AGAIN; BECAUSE YOU GOT SOOOO MUUUUUUCH GOOOOOODNESS OUT OF IT!!!!
SISTER, I COULD GO ON & ON ABOUT HOW YOUR POST, & EVEN DARE I SAY YOOOOOOU (BECAUSE OF YOUR POST, HONESTY, & YOUR WORDS) EFFECTED ME…SO MUCH SO, THAT IN ORDER NOT TO FORGET YOUR WORDS, I WILL MOST LIKELY MAKE A FACEBOOK POST OUT OF YOUR WORDS, GIVING CREDIT TO “AUTHOR UNKNOWN”, (UNLESS U STATE OTHERWISE!!).
FYI, my Facebook name happens to be the ONLY one on there with my name, & spelt exactly the way I spell it, & it is:
THANK U FOR SHARING YOUR WORDS/WISDOM WITH US/ME!!
YOU ARE UUUUNBELIEVABLY AMAZING!!!
I’ve been in an organization where that kind of leadership wasn’t appreciated either. The teams I led LOVED it and thrived. However, leaders above me didn’t even recognize the contribution. They seemed to be busier posturing for their next job move and climbing the ladder. The people who worked for them, hated them, but it was the leadership culture and that’s how they operate. I left. But, I’m wondering about research on the cultures created by these different leadership styles. Is it possible for there to be a mix? Or do those with the “quiet leadership” style, just need to find a place with at least an appreciation for this style, if not a propensity for most leaders in the organization to have this style.
I had this experience too. I felt like I was shouted out of the door! Quiet leadership is also advocacy of and for others and is most definitely needed but in a lot of work cultures it is seen as threatening to the status quo and thus must be quashed.
I think it really, Really, REEEEEALLY depends on the situation you find yourself in. I think I’m a HSP (didn’t know there was a term for it until this morning), and my boss put me in a leadership position between himself and our crew partly and specifically BECAUSE he recognizes that I bring these traits he lacks.
It’s been a beautiful thing – we’ve always been an extremely efficient and effective team due to the traits he’s always brought to the table, but it’s gone to a whole new level. Now not only do we kick the same amount of butt that we’ve always kicked… I actually think we kick MORE because people are happier (because they’re hearing those attaboys and what a great job they do), and it feels more like a work FAMILY because their feelings are taken into account now instead of just their competence and capabilities.
I’ve told my boss numerous times that I’m staying as long as he stays, because I get what some others have said here. Trying to do what I do without someone who understands WHY I focus on the “person” in our people (if that makes sense), or doesn’t appreciate the effect that has, wouldn’t work for me. It’s just not who I am.
It is true, this kind of leadership is not always appreciated, as a HSP I tried with my research team and it worked, everybody seems comfortable at work and give more than expected…this stands as far as you are able to achieve results, otherwise, your pairs and superior will be after you. This is my experience.
Very nicely described, giving words to an internal collective system. The progress . So true. You have inspired me to continue the silent leadership. I work as a horse therapist and this also fits what the horses can teach and show us people Thank you