The Leadership Loneliness Factor
July 6, 2022
We often hear the phrase; it is lonely at the top. All through the ages, we have qoutes from famous leaders about the loneliness they experienced. There is no doubt that being in a leadership position can become a lonely place. Leaders from large international firms to small business owners are saddled with accountability and responsibility that must be managed alone. Harvard Business Review reported that half of all CEOs state that loneliness is indeed a problem and at times, has had a negative impact on his or her overall performance. Today, when I googled, “loneliness in leadership,” I got 12,500,000 results. Obviously, we are not alone in our assumptions that there is in fact an issue with feeling alone at the top. It is also evident that the feelings of being alone increase as we climb higher up the ladder in our careers.
Leaders are at a unique risk for loneliness. Having to make the decisions that come from being in a senior leadership position can make one feel as if they are indeed alone at times. The added challenges of leading an organization can compound these feelings of loneliness and for those that understand this unique burden, are all too often consumed with their own leadership journey to offer substantial perspective. If left unchecked, these feelings of loneliness can cross over into our personal and family lives making it difficult to compartmentalize the office from our homes. It has been proven that loneliness can create higher levels of stress which can impede sleep, affect our ability to think rationally, and augment depression and anxiety.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines lonely as the following:
- Being without company.
- Cut off from others.
- Not frequented by human beings.
- Sad from being alone.
- Producing a feeling of desolation or bleakness.
It takes grit, courage, and determination to be a leader and ascend the corporate ladder. However, based on the definitions of being lonely, and the accounts of so many who have experienced this problem, it raises a simple question; who in their right minds would ever want to be in a senior leadership position? The simple answer is that loneliness in leadership does not have to be the norm. So, what can be done to help alleviate this problem?
Build Meaningful Relationships in your Organization
Great leaders in any organization commit to building meaningful relationships and commit to being more connected everyday with the people they work with. These same leaders have a mindset that they are part of a bigger picture regardless of the title that is on the outside of the office door. Make a conscious effort every day to be altruistic and surround yourself with people you trust and can be connected with.
One of the traits of great leadership is being in tune with how our actions impact those around us. So often we hang up the “Do Not Disturb” sign simply by not being present and in touch with the people around us. It can be through a lack of interaction, or by working behind closed doors. Either way, it will alienate those you need the most in your organization. Being aware of your personal corporate footprint and how your actions impact those around you will go a long way in alleviating the feelings of being alone. Simply put, leaders do not have the luxury of not being aware of their interconnectedness.
Being transparent in the workplace means that there is effective, open, and timely communication throughout the organization. A transparent and accountable leader is someone that employees look up to and want to emulate. These leaders gain employee loyalty and trust and create a culture of inclusion, engagement, and open collaboration. The benefits of transparent leadership are plenty, including eliminating loneliness.
Avoid the Overconfidence Effect
Often as a leader’s power grows, real or perceived, they tend to become overconfident in their abilities. This is called, the “Overconfidence Effect.” This is one of the most precarious traps to fall into as a leader. This false sense of confidence can lead to ineffective listening, assumptions, misunderstandings, and psychological blind spots. It results in employees feeling that there is a lack of transparency which erodes their trust in you as a leader.
It is a proven statistic that overconfidence in leadership results in pushing those away that you need the most in running your organization. This in turn results in those feelings of loneliness when the tough decisions need to be made and there is no one to turn to.
The Vulnerability Decision
Great leaders surround themselves with experts in their fields and readily seek advice, counsel, and open collaboration. These same leaders realize that they may not the smartest, wisest person at the table. The decision to be vulnerable does not mean you are a weak leader. In fact, it takes a great deal of courage in making the choice to be vulnerable. The vulnerability decision is the key to unlocking the potential to become a great leader, and once again, ending the loneliness factor. Being a vulnerable, humble leader will open doors to opportunities that were never thought possible for both yourself and your organization.
Yes, there will be times that you will feel as if you are alone as you strive to manage the added accountability and responsibility that comes with leadership. However, being vulnerable, humble, a good example, present, and transparent will increase the power of your organization and decrease the potential of loneliness in leadership. Law #42 of the 50 laws of intelligent leadership states that, “Management is not a matter of controlling people or processes to accomplish a goal. Leadership is about influencing, motivating, and enabling people.” However, if you are from the demand-and-control school of management, you are in for a rude awakening when it comes to finding those people who are willing to stand by your side through those tough times. In short, plan on being lonely.
About the Author
Rich Baron is a Master Certified Intelligent Leadership Executive Coach with over 25 years of operational management and executive level leadership experience. Along with his coaching partner, Maikel Bailey, they bring over 50 years of executive coaching and leadership experience to the table.