It’s Lonely at the Top

Friday is as good a time as any for a true confession.

If you’re the head of a business, or a fund, or a department — and you’re honest with yourself — you’ve probably found it lonely at the top.

I sure have.

Far more lonely than I had expected.

I’m grateful to be surrounded by friends and family and clients and candidates. Sometimes, my head spins with the list of people in my life… the texts, the calls, the voicemails, the emails.

But in my days as CEO building technology companies, when I was cocky enough to think to myself,  “I’ve arrived” – I was lonely.

Really lonely.

One of the things they don’t teach you at school is how isolating it can be to run a department. Or a company. Or a venture capital fund.

Because you have to put on that game face.

loney-executive-cartoonYes, I’m all about transparency. And sharing data. And real problems.

But in leadership, there’s an expectation to not vent to your team. I see executives do it, and it usually gets ugly. Fast.

Yes, let them know the business problems. But don’t share your messiness, and your worries, and your insecurities with them. That’s your problem, not theirs. They’ve got enough on their plate than to worry about their leader’s mindset too. And trust me, your spouse/partner/love likely doesn’t want to hear it either.

So, it can become very isolating.

The bigger my businesses became, the more I felt the depression build. My shrink would tell me how many successful businesspeople she saw in the same condition. And it made me realize that being the senior person can be really lonely. Ironic since the bigger the business gets, and the larger the team grows, the more alone I felt.

So, if you can’t vent to your Board or staff or customers or partner, who’s left? (Shrinks get pricey.)

Perhaps this:

I’ve been blessed to recruit some amazing heads of talent early in the life of my businesses. Some called VP HR, some Chief People Officer. Whatever I titled them, I called them priceless.

I hope you have such a person next to you on your field of battle.

A remarkable head of talent is part recruiter, part therapist, part culture guru. They’re worth their weight in gold. I couldn’t imagine starting or building a business without one.

If you don’t … recruit one. Even if you can’t afford it, release other employees to free up the funds to do it.

You’ll save a fortune on headhunter fees and have less turnover (because your staff will love her/him) and you’ll have a trusted partner — a consigliere, just like in The Godfather.

That’s the only person you can truly be your complete, vulnerable, messy executive self with.

And once you have her/him in place, here’s a list of the key questions to ask

 Finally! A Headhunter Gives it to You Straight!

Jeff Hyman led a session of ExecuNet Master Class yesterday. Entertaining, straight-shooting, advice you can trust to help you achieve your goals — that’s what the ExecuNet community has come to expect from Jeff — and with our highest rated program of the year, he delivered once again! Over 1,200 executives registered for the live session of  The Realities of Executive Job Search and heard him lay out the hard truths of today’s search. Some even had the opportunity to hear Jeff respond to their own questions!

The recording of the master class will be available to members with VIP access early next week. You don’t want to miss it!


Jeff Hyman

Jeff Hyman

Jeff Hyman launched his recruiting career at Heidrick & Struggles and Spencer Stuart, the preeminent global executive search firms. Today, he’s Chief Talent Officer at Chicago-based Strong Suit Executive Search. Along the way, Jeff created four companies, backed by $50 million in venture capital. He currently teaches the MBA course about recruiting at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and hosts the five-star Strong Suit Podcast. Jeff has been featured by Inc., Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Bloomberg, and other media outlets. He holds a master’s degree from Kellogg School of Management and a bachelor’s degree from The Wharton School.

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