Does It Have to be Lonely at the Top?

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Man Of The Top Of The Mountain In The Fog

It’s no secret that for many, the holidays can amplify feelings of loneliness. It’s easy for leaders in particular to feel this way, and not just during the holidays – after all, the saying, “It’s lonely at the top” didn’t come from out of nowhere. The responsibilities, roles, and relational dynamics of leadership can lead to a real sense of isolation from their direct reports, peers, and even family and friends. In fact, a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that half of CEOs reported experiencing feelings of loneliness in their roles and, of this group, 61% believe it hinders their performance. But does it have to be that way? Here are 3 myths about and responses to the loneliness that top leaders face. 

Myth #1: Leaders must separate themselves from the workforce.
Many approach leadership with an “us and them” attitude. They see leaders and their teams as separate entities. The thinking is that leaders must be objective in order to be fair and you can’t have that real (or perceived) objectiveness if you’re part of the daily fabric of the workforce.

Reality: The total separation mentality is fatal to your ability to act as a strong leader. Just as you shouldn’t pit your workforce against each other, you shouldn’t pit them against you either. Think of yourself as head coach. You’re in the game with them but your role is different. You feel the losses and celebrate the wins along with your team but you’re not out on the actual field. That’s ok. It’s where you need to be. Just make sure you’re a part of the emotional tempo of your reports and their teams, even if you’re not out on the field catching the ball.

Myth #2: Isolation comes with the job
Many high performing leaders feel that isolation simply comes with the territory because of the long hours, travel, time, and energy required to lead the business. The thinking is that the rhythm of leadership necessitates relational solitude simply because of the demands of the role. Is this true?

Reality: This isn’t all myth… but it doesn’t have to be your reality either. The farther you go in leadership and the more you’re responsible for simply requires that you be more intentional with boundaries and building in personal and professional restoration. Studies show that when work and communications boundaries are set by leadership, people are more effective when they are on the clock. So be intentional. Just note that you have to work harder at unplugging the higher you go.

Myth #3: You can never really confide in anyone.
As a leader, there are some things you just can’t share with most of your people. From business opportunities that haven’t been solidified yet to not-so-great news that would interrupt work and damage morale, leaders not only have access to sensitive information, but they’re often expected to keep all of it close to the vest. All the time.

Reality: There’s a fine line between keeping sensitive business information close to the vest and living a life where you keep everything close to the vest. Including your vulnerabilities and emotions. That’s why it’s so important to seek out and invest in peer groups and networks where you can be open and vulnerable without worrying about this information getting out to the workforce. Make sure you have a small group of peers where you can let your guard down, share your “stuff,” and really let your human side be open.

This holiday season take a minute to evaluate your approach to leadership. Whether you’re succumbing to one of these myths or not, taking a step back to see the big picture can only bring good things. And if you’re looking for more leadership insights, I invite you to check out the Connection Room. Because connecting people is what we do. During the holidays and all year long.