Quiet Leaders: The Silent Superpower



“We learn who we are by reflecting on our past, by knowing and interpreting the story of our life.”

Gordon T Smith

When I was in High School I learned about Leprosy, in church. I tell you, it was an eye opener.

In it’s heyday, leprosy was like eBola only there were no doctors and no treatments other than running away from the person, or having them run away from you. I guess the people back then were more healthy. Get the running shoes and run away. That would burn a lot of calories.

I was told that symptoms of Leprosy include pale, white skin and deadened nerves that are no longer sensitive to pain or irritation. Because the nerves die, the body parts can no longer sense pain or irritation. Sores, infections and disease attack the body, and it feels nothing. Then body parts fall off.

One part of me thinks that when you have Leprosy, you are basically a Zombie. Yes, I have watched too much Walking Dead. But that was not in church. (What I have since learned is that leprosy is minimally contagious, it is curable and it is caused by bacteria. See the link above if you are curious.)

Leprosy is a deadening of sensitivity. So I wondered, can a person’s skin be too sensitive? Thanks’ to the Internet, I found the answer – 20 Common Questions About Sensitive Skin. Treatment of sensitive skin involves three important activities:

  • Cleansing
  • Moisturizing
  • Cosmetics

What happens if your personality is too sensitive? I doubt that cleansing, moisturizing and cosmetics will help with that.

In the past, I have been told that I am too sensitive and too intense. So I wonder, what does it mean to be too sensitive?

According to thefreedictionary.com, sensitive has to meanings:

  1. Being a sensitive person.
  2. One held to be endowed with psychic or occult powers.

I like the sounds of #2. Sensitivity is a superpower.


In our society, being too Sensitive is not usually thought of as a superpower. If you are told you are too sensitive, it does not mean that your skin needs a little more cleansing or some nice moisturizers. Nope. Sensitive means a lot of (mostly negative) things such as easily hurt, a being ‘wall flower’ (that sound’s uncomfortable), easily overwhelmed, lacking something that stronger people seem to have.

How did we get to the place where being sensitive is a weakness? If we lived in the Old Testament where Leprosy was more common, having sensitive skin would be a real advantage. Less running and more happy times.

Sensitivity is a superpower

Introverts are sensitive: we are always scanning, tuned in, aware of details, colors and sounds. We notice and we go deeper than what is being said. It is as if every aspect of a situation, the entire ambiance of a room or the entire crowd is part of our conversation. I don’t know about you but having conversations with 20 (or 200) people, along with taking in the decor, the colours, the music, the food and the pets all at the same time can be more than a little overwhelming. But I tell you, it is also highly stimulating!


I have never seen this side of my personality as a weakness. It never struck me as strange to take in the entire ambiance of a room, the people, along with my other senses all at the same time.

“A quiet nature has advantages – such as the power of observation and contemplation.”

Erin Anderson

In Quiet, Susan Cain talks about the sensitivity of the Introvert and how we can be sensitive to sights, sounds, smells, pain and coffee. (I never realized that coffee was thinking about me at all! Now I guess I’ll have to give that some thought, too.) We can also be sensitive to being observed or feeling judged.

For anyone, experiences like annual evaluations, having our work scrutinized or being criticized can set off a reaction. As an introvert though, when I feel I am being observed or judged, it is like my sensory array goes on ‘high alert’ and everything seems 100% more intense than usual. These moments feel like Telescopic Sensitivity.

Sensitivity has its downside, just like being insensitive. Cain describes how sensitivity can also be a superpower:

  • Deeply processing information about our environments, noticing subtleties
  • Being aware of a deeper meaning to events, being philosophical or spiritually minded
  • Curiosity, creativity and intuition
  • Dreaming vividly (at night and when awake)
  • Loving music, art and physical beauty
  • Feeling exceptionally strong emotions
  • Being empathetic and caring, having a strong conscience
  • Finding joy in the moment, in the richness of an experience

“I know that when someone frowns at me, it is probably because they just farted.”

The Silent Superpower 

I admit that sometimes I over think and this can add fuel to emotional storms, sometimes caused by little more than a casual word by someone. I have learned to ask rather than assume, but it can take me a while to speak up.

I have also realized that things are rarely about me. I know that when someone frowns at me, it is probably because they just farted. Or because they are thinking about what is stressing them, their bills, or how they look in their jeans. I have also learned that one of my best tools is to call someone I know and say what is on my mind. And then I take some action rather than sit and think some more. Action oriented extroverts have taught me a lot about how action can change my emotion.


I am reclaiming sensitivity is a strength, a Superpower. It is like having an Information Superhighway flowing through the senses. And that is a good thing!


“For many people hectic activity provides a kind of perpetual adrenaline rush. Often those who are consumed by busyness feel that this pattern of life and work legitimates them. They feel important; they feel needed; they feel alive. But it is a false sense of life and importance, and eventually it leaves them feeling hollow.”

Gordon T. Smith

Keep it real!


Quiet Leader links

Check other articles in the series on Quiet Leadership here: the Quiet Leadership Manifesto, The Imposter Syndrome, The Top Ten Reasons Listening is Better than Talking, Seat Work (boring title, but amazing post… so says my Publicist/Daughter) and The DSM 5 and my Near Diagnosis Experience.



Anderson, E. Wednesday, Jan. 30 2013. When is shyness an ‘illness’? The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/when-is-shyness-an-illness/article8018705/

Cain, S. 2013. Quiet. New York: Random House. Chapter 6.

(N.D.) Leprosy overview. Web MD. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/leprosy-symptoms-treatments-history

Smith, G.T. 1999. Courage and calling. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. Citations from pages 109 and 95, respectively.

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