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  • Writer's pictureConnie Robinson

What is HSP Leadership?

Updated: Jun 7

Recent research on "sensitivity" has highlighted the unique trait of High Sensory Processing Sensitivity or Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP), challenging the notion of sensitivity being a weakness.  This article is the first in a series exploring the concept of HSP Leadership, where we will delve into the origins, characteristics, and potential benefits of this trait and how to support HSP people into leadership roles. Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs) possess a heightened awareness and deep attunement to their surroundings, making them invaluable assets in leadership roles. By understanding the nuances of this trait and its potential impact, we can unlock new perspectives on effective leadership and foster more inclusive and empathetic work environments. This article delves into the concept of HSP Leadership, exploring its origins, characteristics, and the benefits it can bring to organisations and society.

HSP is a birth trait, not a psychological disorder. Before the clinical research conducted by Dr Elaine Aron, who identified the traits, psychologists characterised people presenting with HSP traits as having Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). This characterisation was not helpful for persons with HSP traits, as it is truly a trait and not a disorder. Elaine, who experienced these traits herself, sought a better understanding of her experience and the nuances of her nervous system. She first published her research in 1997. Another term sometimes used interchangeably with HSP is Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) for individuals with an exceptionally high sensitivity or hypersensitivity.

Image created with Midjourney, Krea AI and digital compositing in Photoshop

Persons with the HSP trait have a heightened awareness of their surroundings, a deep sensitivity to sensory stimuli, and an exceptional ability to pick up on the emotions, energies and frequencies of those around them and their environment. They experience the world intensely and often feel deeply affected by both positive and negative experiences. The trait is present from birth and designed for a species' survival. The trait is said to be passed on to approximately 20% of humans and many other species. The word sensitivity or hypersensitivity is often characterised in our society as an inherent emotional weakness, and that perception couldn't be further from the truth. This skewed perception leads to a great loss of opportunity to collaborate with individuals who possess HSP traits as they tirelessly promote, nurture and support others within their circle of influence. 

TIP 1. HSPs often prefer working behind the scenes.

Many HSP personalities prefer to avoid being the centre of attention. They usually showcase and highlight the achievements of their team and the people they lead, giving them full credit and appreciation for work well done. They champion up-and-coming team members and encourage them to grow and advance. They quickly identify interference and work to the best of their ability to dissolve blockers, making it easier for their team to focus and work undisturbed.  

TIP 2. HSPs often require a lot of information to make decisions. 

This means you will be working at a level of detail not often required by senior leaders. The HSP leader has a depth of processing information beyond the ordinary, allowing them to plan what will work once they complete their deep thinking process. An HSP's decisions will rarely be wrong and seldom shortsighted. They will often collect information and ask a variety of sources for their opinion and what they might do. Even if, in the end, they choose a different path, they weigh all angles before making decisions. This means you will have an impartial and fair-minded leader who looks at all sides of a situation.  

TIP 3. HSPs require adequate time to articulate their ideas, thoughts, and decisions. 

These personalities have an unusual depth of processing thoughts and ideas. They painstakingly process ideas and thoughts to arrive at profound solutions, often overlooked or missed in their simplicity. They do their best work when given time for deliberation and will expand your idea of what is even possible.

TIP 4. HSPs sense and pick up all forms of energy and emotion in the environment that others miss. 

They can perceive extreme minutiae of emotion and energies being exerted around them. They will use their empathetic tendencies to sort solutions and read all the stimuli around them to protect their peace and that of others and to get the best outcome. That means they may need time to focus, as they are susceptible to sensory overload. It is unlikely anyone would notice them becoming overwhelmed, as they have learnt coping strategies since birth.

TIP 5. HSPs are deeply passionate about their work in the world, whether through a career, community involvement, nonprofit, or side project.

They strive to be supportive of others, innovative, and steadfast, but they will always feel there is more to do, which can be challenging. Their work never ends.  If they do not find a passion for what they are involved with, they will be motivated to find or create that passion.

If you can learn how best to work with HSP superpowers, they will provide a nurturing, open, and trusted environment for others to thrive and grow. This is a differentiator that will ensure your business survives and thrives. Businesses and organisations need HSPs to step into leadership roles. If you know an HSP, encourage them to step forward into leadership, and you will repeatedly see how the business and the people transform under their intuitive care. 



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