Stop telling yourself leadership is lonely. It’s a hazard of my job, but I often find myself listening to other people and unbidden, questions start to fire off in my head. I can’t help it. It comes with the territory. I’m naturally curious and love to understand people, their motivations and their thinking.
Something I hear frequently is that leadership is lonely. Observations from leaders, include:
• they don’t have anyone to talk to
• they hold a lot of confidential information
• they are ultimately responsible for the decisions that need to be made
• Some leaders feel they can’t (or decide not) to talk about work very much at home or with friends.
This is all very understandable but I believe it to be an all-too-easy mindset to adopt and for that perspective to become a self-fulfilling truth, which tends to reinforce the myth. And it’s not very helpful to you as a leader or those around you.
Lonely or alone?
Do leaders find themselves alone – literally or metaphorically – much of the time? Indeed. Is that the same thing as being ‘lonely?’ Nope.
You can be alone a lot and yet not feel lonely. You can be surrounded by others and feel very lonely indeed. And holding onto this difference, is key for you, because the former is a neutral state, whilst the latter is a negative interpretation of a situation and can have a detrimental effect on your performance as a leader.
Adopting this view of the experience of leadership being lonely, could tell you something. It might suggest that you like the company of others and have a preference for extraversion (i.e. you get energy from other people.) It might suggest that you are actually struggling with the day-to-day stresses and strains of the job and summoning up some resilience has become a genuine challenge. You may also have a ‘be strong’ streak, where you tend to take too much on your own shoulders, when you could/should be looking to share the responsibilities. Extreme versions of this resemble a kind of martyr-like-mentality, which is not great for you or those around you.
Time for a change?
Developing your self-awareness about why you might be feeling lonely, is an important stage in your development as a leader. Spending time reflecting on this will help you understand yourself better and your context more fully. It will enable you to appreciate whether your feelings are driven by a specific set of circumstances, such as your own low energy levels following an extended period of intense work or if you have a tendency to hold certain views/perspectives irrespective of situation e.g. I’ll do this because I can’t rely on others to help me.
The good news is that you can choose to change your view of being alone as a leader, instantly. You can re-assess your perspective and choose to look at things differently at any point in your working day or week.
Specifically, here are three strategies you might want to consider if you are feeling lonely as a leader, which are tried and tested ways to improve the situation.
- Build your own multi-disciplinary Board
I love this approach and have used it with several leaders to good effect. The idea here is that you actively build a group of people around you, who you can rely on and occasionally open up to, without any concern that they are judging you or are indiscreet. This group do not have to be connected to your work: your Personal Trainer, Financial Adviser, your biggest Fan; a friend/connection who is very comfortable talking straight to you, etc. etc. Any and all of these can make up an effective personal Board. Mix up the diversity of backgrounds and views, in order to provide you with the most rounded type of support you will receive.
- Get out more
Whilst some leaders are great at getting out and about, some leaders narrow their focus and inadvertently isolate themselves from the influences of a wider network. Invited to be a guest speaker on a panel event? Take it. Asked to present some awards at an industry event? Do it. Invited to a breakfast meeting? Go along. Not only will these opportunities widen your network and potentially reduce feelings of loneliness but you’ll also learn a lot, including that you are not alone and that other leaders experience similar things to you.
- Get a coach and/or mentor
The process of effective coaching is intrinsically cathartic in itself. The act of talking things through (and importantly, out loud, rather than just inside your own head) have helped an enormous number of leaders to feel less overwhelmed, increasingly clear and more in control. Not only is the process a positive one but, of course, leaders can bring the topic of resolving feelings of being lonely to the coaching assignment. If you choose this approach, you stand to get double the benefit.
Finally, and this is important, you should consider whether taking a break is a good idea. It maybe that simply creating some space between you and your work allows you to re-assess the situation. If you try all of the above and things don’t improve you could ultimately go through your organisation’s Employee Assistance Programme, who will be well placed to suggest alternative forms of support.
Whichever of the above approaches you adopt, ultimately, how you view your experience as a leader, is largely a matter of choice.