It’s lonely at the top! I know this to be true from personal experience, and I hear it from my fellow CEOs all the time. In fact, if you attend any sort of leadership roundtable, loneliness is a top complaint. Leading an organization, team, or group can often mean that you—and you alone—are responsible for every detail in the big picture. The rest of the staff has been siloed into lesser degrees of obligation and stress.
Your vantage point gives you a broad understanding of the company’s operation. You know which department is struggling, which employee is spinning toward their last day, what client is upset, and how much money is in the bank. Knowledge is good, but the pressure can be unbearable at times. That’s when loneliness comes rushing in.
There is only so much inside information we can share with others. We turn to our spouses and friends, but they never seem to quite understand. So, we may choose to hold it all in, forcing a smile and longing for greater connection and support. In reality, no one can go it alone and remain successful.
I have been fortunate to attend a monthly CEO group for 10 years and witnessed some fantastic examples of how to overcome this problem. The advice of many mentors? To ward off loneliness at the top, we must turn to love. I do not mean romantic love. Instead, I mean the type of love that forms connection, friendship, admiration, and understanding. Here is how I work at it:
Whether you are the CEO of a company or the head of a team, you accepted your role. So, wherever you land on the leadership spectrum, you must incorporate two truths into your mindset. First, you are the leader, and it is your job to deal with the tough issues. Second, you are also in a position of privilege. Have fun with it!
You are a leader, and not by mistake. People come to you for a reason. Accept that you will be faced with their most difficult dilemmas, at the least convenient times. You are there to help. Instead of blurting out, “Now what?” and burying your face into your hands, try this: thank the person for coming to you. Assure them that, together, you can find a way forward.
Although not our gut reaction, this is a necessary shift in mindset. Start celebrating your status as the go-to leader who makes things better. Be happy that you have the opportunity to help your company, the client, and your staff.
Change your outlook and start addressing these events as opportunities, not problems. This will improve your self-esteem, allow for better communication, and give you earlier access to critical issues. This form of self-love will foster a better relationship with those around you.
That sense of “leadership loneliness” often comes from the restrictions we have in sharing. Sometimes we know things that could worry people, are private in nature, or are just not appropriate to share. We may default into not sharing, and the less we share, the lonelier it feels.
When you hold back, though, it becomes more difficult for your team members and employees to form and deepen a relationship with you. The counter here is to be as transparent about everything that you can share. This includes being honest when you can’t share.
To maintain connection with your colleagues and staff, check in and out. Start each team meeting by asking, “How are you showing up?” Go around the room and let each person answer. Don’t go first; give your team the chance to share.
I usually speak somewhere near the end of the line. No targeted comments are expected or even needed. This is just a chance for everyone in a meeting to share their mental state.
Every time we do this, someone surprises me. They bring something into the room that I never expected. Sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it needs to be addressed before the meeting can go on. Clearing the air lets everyone do their best work.
When you finish the meeting, ask: “How are you leaving?” If your team is not excited to go forth and make your company great, you’ll learn who needs a one-on-one or where to start next time.
For me, it’s a relief to share with my team how I’m feeling and what I’m dealing with. It lets us all understand each other better and feel more connected. Sometimes we even have a lovefest! That’s what I mean about cultivating love for people you work with and respect. It comes back around to you, and reminds you why you became a leader in the first place.
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