Defeating the Demon of Leadership Loneliness
Leading sets you apart from others. Being out in front means you may walk alone. Additionally, you work to understand others but do others understand you?
If you feel alone, you aren’t alone.
Leadership’s “A” game:
Leaders bring their “A” game every day. You direct, guide, manage, decide, counsel, encourage, challenge, …
- You think of others and the organization before yourself.
- You think about tomorrow while those around you focus on today.
- You know things others don’t and can’t know. You keep confidences.
- You can’t spill your guts. You’re guarded even when you’re open.
- You’re always “on”, watched, and evaluated.
Being set apart results in feeling set apart.
The danger of alone:
Loneliness always makes life harder. Stress is deeper, darks are darker, and thinking is impaired when you feel alone. I even read that loneliness speeds aging.
Leadership’s “A” game results in feeling “A”-lone. To make matters worse, happy people don’t like hanging with lonely people. Lonely people hang together and create more loneliness.
Facing the demon of leadership loneliness:
- Don’t expect people within your organization to understand you.
- Train top tier leaders to think like CEO’s who put others first.
- Engage people in the process early and often.
- Avoid faking and pretending. Faking feeds the demon of loneliness.
- Develop authentic relationships with leaders outside your organization. Expose your heart to someone you trust. Be selective.
- Hire a coach. Be a coach and have a coach. Mine is Bob Hancox.
- Take alone time at least once a month. Weekly is better. Alone time helps with loneliness.
- Clear your mind so you can think more clearly. Read, walk, run, exercise, or go to a movie.
- Warning: thinking you’re better than others is an arrogant defense mechanism that increases loneliness.
What are the causes of leadership loneliness?
How can leaders deal with feeling alone?
I would add, “have a fantastic pit crew.” Dan, you might enjoy my post from this Saturday… plays together nicely.
Hi Karin, love your article: Leadership Pit Crew: http://letsgrowleaders.com/2012/09/15/leadership_pit_crew/ . Thanks for the heads up and thanks for all you do for others.
thanks so much for sharing this, Dan. I am humbled by your kind comment.
Dan, you hit home on this post. Bringing your A game excites and energizes. Facing the demons brings different emotions. Great post and a keeper for me.
Thanks Scott…looking forward to reconnecting with you soon.
I see leadership and management as a two way street. I tell others that are on my team that they have a responsibility to learn how to manage me the manager just as I have a responsibility to manage my manager. They also have a responsibility to lead because no one has all of the answers and they have a responsibility to lead the team when we are in a situation where their expertise is needed. I try and build a team where there would not be loneliness because we are all responsible for the sucess and leadership. Now I know when things hit the fan it is my responsibility to be out front to lead the team through the difficult times but hopefully these times are minimized because of the teams efforts during the “normal” times.
Thanks Keith. Great comment. More recently, I’ve said to the leadership team I work with that I want and need their support. I said that only after several weeks of talking about how we stand together and also asking, how do we stand together.
I suppose it’s a small step toward supportive organizational cultures.
This is a great way to become your own leader, without coming across like a know -it-all 😉
Well know-it-all is an issue to be concerned about…It’s pretty easy to come off that way
Hi Dan, leaders need support from other than their direct reports and employees, such as a coach, a business consultant, and leaders from other organizations. Not only will these resources alleviate the loneliness but also provide insight into how best to lead.
Agreed on both points Robert. Thank you
Dan, thank you so much for posting this. Last year was my first year in a leadership position. I was comfortable with the responsibility, the decision making and being accountable for what I had to do in my role.
I was not prepared for the loneliness factor.
It was expected, but I didn’t know it would be as intense as it was. Through the “hard knocks” process, I was able to discover the advice you gave for myself, and it is very reassuring to read it today. Here are some additional tips that helped me, and continue to help me, hopefully it will now help others:
1) Invest in your significant others – family, spouse, etc. Much strength can be gained from making sure things are strong in the world away from work.
2) Work with that network of friends. They give you the opportunity to blow off steam, and if you have a good network, they will give you the reassurance you want, and the tough advice you may need, even if you may not want to hear it at the time. Listen.
3) Exercise – loneliness compound problems that are mostly internal. Blowing off steam in the gym or the running trail or the yoga studio gives you perspective that big issues may not be so big.
4) Remember, you took this job as a choice, and your people look to you to be strong for them. Give them the benefit of the doubt – when they seem to challenge you, what they really want if for you to make sure that they are safe in the execution of their duties.
5) Create – paint, sculpt, spin pottery, draw or write. See how much it helps.
Powerful comment. Thanks for adding your insights to this discussion!
I didn’t write about the support I enjoy from my spouse but it can’t be left out of this conversation. Strong relationships at home strengthen us for work.
Great post, Dan!
Isolated leaders can quickly become insecure and ineffective. 5 & 6 are vital…build those relationships with peers and a coach for added perspective, support, and a push when you need it.
Thanks DAvid. As I read your comment, I thought about leaders who get paranoid…I can see where isolation leads to speculation.
The ‘pit crew’ comment by Karin rang true here. Have a cadre of champions can create layers of mutuality– over the long term, very important. To a degree, the loneliness can partially be addressed, but there still are boundaries. Of course, there should be an overt expectation that champions also point out the faulty stitches in emperor’s new duds as well.
Know that the crew is a temporary state, people come and go. Model all you can model while they are with you (including that you have a coach and believe in continuous learning even at the top.) And be on the lookout for potential ‘someday’ drivers who will pick up as you move on too.
Joe’s point #5, (Re)”Create” yourself is HUGE. Challenge yourself outside of your “work” in the same way you challenge yourself in your work. This can be done individually, although a balance of solo and group is a great blend.The people you get to know via non-work activities are vital, stretch you, and also just plain fun.
I always look for and appreciate your insights, Doc.
I neglected building a pit crew…not because those around me didn’t care or want to support me but because I build a wall between us. Walls exacerbate loneliness. Duh!
This was the biggest shock I found in leadership. Many of my friends who were at my level had retired. For the first time in my career, I really didn’t have friends anymore at work. It was the hardest part of leadership.
Reblogged this on TrueheartWrites and commented:
Although you may or may not consider yourself a leader but either way I you are with or without the title. If you haven’t already experienced this (I have), there will be times that as a leader, someone set apart and different from those around you, you will feel lonely at some point. Here is an awesome post that may help you deal with the mantra that ‘it’s lonely at the top.’ It doesn’t have to be and this post shares why. I really enjoyed this and I hope you do too!
Dan, this post hit home for me. This was an awesome reminder that it’s ok to be where you are and that there are other alternatives to feeling lonely at the top. Some of your suggestions I am already using but there were others that I will be adding to my list. The hardest part about being where I am is the transparency. I saw myself in the comment you are guarded even when you are open. WOW… powerful!
Having a coach or mentor, or in my case, a brilliant spouse is key to avoiding leadership loneliness. I definitely agree. Thanks for your post.
I remember asking a mentor about the loneliness that can come with being a successful leader. He told me “it’s not so much that it’s lonely; but there IS a lot of room to stretch out!”
Another thing that has helped me avoid the loneliness is to surround myself with other leaders and seek out sources of inspiration (like you Dan)
Wow, well said. This is a subject I agree on, – it’s teaching you to both accept it if you are a leader and how to defeat it if you are a leader. Thanks.
Thank you for your post Dan.
On the one hand, you say, “Lonely people hang together and create more loneliness.” Yet you also encourage leaders to seek out others, such as another at the same level but of a different organization. Couldn’t this result in the greater lonliness you describe?
I guess I’m asking, what is the difference?
I suggest the difference is the type of people you seek.