In the traditional landscape of leadership, qualities like assertiveness, decisiveness, and toughness have often been prized above all else. However, a growing body of research and real-world observations suggest that a new paradigm is emerging—one that celebrates sensitivity as a strength rather than viewing it as a handicap. This paradigm shift has given rise to the concept of the sensitive striver—a high achieving individual who embodies both sensitivity and ambition, creating a unique blend of empathy, resilience, and drive. In this article, we’ll explore what it means to be a sensitive striver and how this approach to leadership is reshaping organizational dynamics.

Lessons from Highly Sensitive Individuals

Dr. Elaine Aron’s groundbreaking work on highly sensitive individuals was one of the first to shed light on the concept of high-sensitivity. In her book “The Highly Sensitive Person,” Aron explores how sensitivity can manifest as a trait present in a significant portion of the population. Highly sensitive individuals, she explains, have a finely tuned nervous system that can lead to deeper processing of sensory information and heightened emotional responses. While being highly sensitive can present challenges, such as susceptibility to overwhelm and overstimulation, Aron emphasizes the strengths associated with sensitivity, including creativity, empathy, and a rich inner life.

Understanding the Concept of “Sensitive Striver”

Introduced by Melody Wilding in her work on high achievers who are also highly-sensitive, the concept of “sensitive striver” represents a departure from traditional leadership archetypes. Instead of adhering to the stereotype of the detached, authoritative leader, the sensitive striver combines sensitivity with ambition. This individual is empathetic, attuned to the emotions and needs of others, and able to form strong interpersonal connections. At the same time, they are also ambitious, motivated to achieve their goals, and willing to work hard to succeed. This combination of traits enables sensitive strivers to lead with authenticity, compassion, and purpose.

The STRIVE Framework

In her 2020 book “Trust Yourself” Melody Wilding introduces the STRIVE framework, which outlines the dimensions of sensitivity, ambition, and other key traits that characterize the sensitive striver. This framework includes:

  • Sensitivity: Sensitive strivers naturally excel at processing complex information, demonstrating heightened perceptiveness and responsiveness to their surroundings. They often thrive in environments with structure and routine, yet may experience being easily overstimulated, especially under pressure.
  • Thoughtfulness: Highly self-aware, reflective, and intuitive, sensitive strivers possess a unique ability to discern nuances and synthesize information, fostering originality and creativity. However, they may find themselves grappling with a racing mind, prone to overanalyzing day-to-day experiences, and their above-average self-awareness may sometimes lead to feelings of self-consciousness and self-criticism.
  • Responsibility: Trusted and relied upon for support, sensitive strivers are known for their dependability and hardworking nature. They often prioritize meeting others’ expectations, even at the expense of their own well-being, driven by a perpetual desire to be liked and to please others, which can ultimately contribute to burnout.
  • Inner Drive: Sensitive strivers are motivated to surpass expectations, not only in performance reviews but in all facets of life. They invest considerable energy into their careers and are deeply committed to making a meaningful impact. While achieving goals brings them excitement, they may set impossibly high standards for success.
  • Vigilance: Possessing keen awareness, sensitive strivers are adept at detecting subtle changes in their environment, from subtle cues in body language to shifts in the overall mood of a meeting. They actively listen and strive to be responsive to others’ needs, yet the constant state of alertness can be draining, leading them to occasionally perceive threats or danger where none exist.
  • Emotionality: Sensitive strivers experience emotions intensely and often have multifaceted emotional responses. They readily immerse themselves in positive emotions like inspiration and gratitude but may also grapple with negative feelings such as annoyance and disappointment.

Embracing Sensitivity in Leadership

Incorporating lessons from Dr Elaine Aron and Melody Wilding’s work, it becomes clear that sensitivity can be a valuable asset in leadership. Leaders who are sensitive strivers, drawing on their heightened awareness and empathetic nature, can foster environments of trust, collaboration, and innovation. By embracing their sensitivity and leveraging it as a strength, leaders can cultivate authentic connections with their team members, inspire loyalty, and drive organizational success.

Positive Leadership and the ALIGHT Framework

Possibly one way to look at how sensitive leaders can flourish could be through the lenses of positive psychology. One relevant such theoretical model that caught my attention is that from Cornelia Lucey & the ALIGHT framework, which emphasizes the importance of positive leadership practices.

The ALIGHT framework can be seen as particularly relevant in the context of sensitive leadership as it provides a structured approach for cultivating key leadership resources such as empathy, adaptability, and resilience, which are essential qualities of sensitive strivers.

  • Abundance, the first resource in the ALIGHT model, speaks to a leader’s capacity to recognize and leverage strengths—both their own and those of others within the organization. This mindset shift, coupled with the ability to spot and utilize strengths, forms the foundation for a thriving organizational culture built on appreciation and empowerment.
  • Limberness, the next resource, underscores the importance of adaptability and resilience in leadership. Leaders who embody limberness are not only able to pivot gracefully in the face of change but also exhibit emotional agility, choosing responses that foster growth and connection even in challenging circumstances.
  • Inspiration, the third resource, highlights the transformative power of leaders who can ignite passion and purpose in others. Through a combination of self-efficacy, hope, and expansive networks, inspired leaders catalyse positive change and motivate their teams to reach new heights of achievement.
  • Grand Design invites leaders to transcend the minutiae of daily tasks and align their efforts with a larger narrative of meaning and purpose. By fostering a sense of significance and direction, leaders can instil a shared vision that inspires collective action and fuels organizational success.
  • Health, a critical component of effective leadership, emphasizes the importance of holistic well-being for both leaders and their teams. Leaders who prioritize health promotion, create supportive environments, and foster meaningful connections cultivate a culture of vitality and resilience that sustains long-term success.
  • Finally, Tribe underscores the relational aspect of leadership—the ability to cultivate and nurture connections that foster trust, collaboration, and innovation. Leaders who excel in tribe-building create environments where individuals feel valued, understood, and empowered to contribute their best.


By embracing sensitivity as a strength rather than a weakness, leaders can cultivate more empathetic, authentic, and inclusive organizational cultures. As we continue to explore the intersection of sensitivity and ambition in leadership, we have the opportunity to redefine what it means to lead with purpose and compassion in today’s complex and interconnected world.

And now tell me, do you know sensitive strivers in your life and how do you place them as leaders? Is what way do you see sensitivity as an advantage for expressing leadership in life?

Sincerely yours,

Dr Sophie



Aron, E. N. (1997). The Highly Sensitive Person. Broadway Books.

Lucey, C., & Burke, J. (2022). Positive Leadership in Practice: A Framework for the Future. Routledge.

Wilding, M. (2020). The Empathetic Striver: An Empowering Guide to Emotional Intelligence. HarperCollins Leadership.