A CEO I spoke with recently told me that she frequently feels lonely given her position at the top of her organization. In fact, I hear this regularly from leaders I work with, and while it might be loneliest when you are truly at the top – think CEO, President, Chairperson – leadership loneliness typically starts as soon as a leader moves into a role that requires running a team. Lonely leaders start emerging at the director level within organizations. It is truly lonely at the top.
What Causes Leadership Loneliness?
Where does this loneliness come from? It starts because people want strong leaders. They expect vision and calm in the face of incoming storms. They want to see the beautiful swan gliding across the top of the water; not the frantic paddling that occurs underneath the waves. As a leader, the old adage, “Never let them see you sweat” becomes a daily reality.
At their best, leaders do show vulnerability but need to balance that with showing strength and providing clear direction to those they lead and the company they serve. Often loneliness results because leaders do not have an outlet for their concerns, insecurities, and questions.
You feel that you can’t share your challenges with the people who report to you, and you don’t always want to share them with your boss. You may also feel reluctant to talk about these things with your significant other or your friends to avoid wearing out those relationships. As a result, you may feel disconnected, and a bit like you operate on an island.
While studies have shown that retention rises and people enjoy their jobs more when they have friends and close connections at work, this notion becomes more challenging as leaders move up the corporate ladder. How can a CEO or SVP have friends at work? Where can leaders turn for close connection?
Combatting Leadership Loneliness
Leaders can combat the loneliness that often confronts them by developing a peer network. As an article in Inc. said “it’s imperative to surround yourself with peers who can relate to your challenges and offer advice in a sympathetic, confidential way.”
Depending on your level within your organization, a peer network may exist within your company. Often directors or vice presidents can turn to their colleagues for advice, connection and wise counsel. However, if you are a very senior leader, you may need to look outside your company to find your peer group.
I have coached many C-suite leaders, and they typically find their best sources of mentoring, friendship and advice outside of their organizations. They turn to roundtables, mastermind groups, industry organizations and coaching to combat their leadership loneliness.
If you are experiencing loneliness as you lead your team or organization, consider talking to a coach, a mentor or a colleague. Join an organization where you can be surrounded by your peers.
Your ability to continue to navigate the challenges you face depends on you feeling strong and supported. I offer leadership roundtables – groups of leaders who meet regularly to connect, share advice, and discuss the challenges they face. Let me know if you are interested by contacting me here.