As I began my leadership journey to the exalted ranks of CEO, I was warned, “Be careful what you ask for; you just might get it.” My mentor went on to share one of his favorite CEO jokes, “It’s lonely at the top, but the view is terrific.”
At the time, I thought his sagacity was a little trite, but I soon discovered the accuracy of his wisdom. The truth is, being a CEO or an executive leader is extremely hard. Sure, there are great rewards like compensation, recognition, autonomy and power, but at what price? More often than not, feelings of isolation and loneliness abound.
As a CEO, you really can’t share your concern about making payroll with your employees. You can’t discuss your fears and uncertainties with your board. You may try to find solace by talking with friends and family, but too often, they only add fuel to the fire by being overly sympathetic or protective. And many times, they can’t even relate to what you are going through. All this leads to increased feelings of isolation.
Related Read: CEO: The Biggest Blind Spot in Any Company
Isolation is not a unique feeling for executives. A harrowing 2012 CEO Snapshot survey found that more than 50% of CEOs feel lonely. What is more alarming is that 60% believe loneliness and isolation hinder their performance! Those statistics have only gotten worse over the years and now cascade throughout the entirety of an organization.
Did you know 41% of employed men reported feeling a general sense of emptiness at work in 2019, along with 29% of working women?
Loneliness—both at work and home—is quickly becoming an epidemic, only being compounded by the current wave of a public health crisis, economic recession, racial injustice, and an ever-expanding remote workforce.
Many leaders try to meet these challenges head-on and by ourselves. Unfortunately, we often lack the perspective to make better choices and as such, our actions can end up compounding the situation or, even worse, having unintended repercussions.
It sure is lonely at the top, but it does not have to be that way.
Fortunately, there are small but powerful choices CEOs can make immediately to feel less alone. Here are four to consider:
- Accept: Accept the fact that it’s lonely at the top and stop projecting that facade of calm confidence. No one expects you to have all the answers and to solve every major problem by yourself. Your board, team, friends, and family will find strength in your vulnerability and authenticity. Instead of abandoning you during your time of need, those around you will rise with you to meet the occasion.
- Partner: No one can run a modern business alone! Every leader—no matter his or her role—benefits from having someone to turn to for an empathetic ear, advice and guidance, fresh perspectives, and the sharing of knowledge. Building partnership (both formal and informal), gave me the ability to grow through some very challenging events. As leaders, we need to build connections by seeking out mentors, coaches, experienced peers and trusted peer-to-peer organizations. These partnerships can be formal, where we hire individuals with the resources that we require or more informal, like joining peer-to-peer organizations.
- Level-Up: Your company grows, markets change, industries come and go, competitors become more fierce, and challenges are continuously evolving. The question is, “Are you and your team ready?” If we want to reduce loneliness and isolation, we must learn how to level-up not only ourselves but our teams. Many of our senior leaders and mid-level managers are home-grown, and they have never experienced what comes next. As we move forward, their development needs to more intentional, consistent, and formal. As your team develops, they become more reliable, more capable, and ready to carry the load that rests on your shoulders.
- Bite-Size: I have long appreciated the phrase, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” These days we have many elephants in front of us. We must make tremendous decisions that can leave us feeling paralyzed (and, again, alone.) Instead of trying to solve your most significant, most herculean challenges, start by making small but impactful decisions that move you towards your goal. By approaching your problems with small bites, you will not only make progress but also shift from feeling lonely to empowered.
It’s important to remember that we do not succeed by ourselves, but we fail on our own. We can lead with intention. We can build support structures to face the uncertainty of tomorrow and the challenges of today. We can start today working proactively to invest in ourselves, our team, and our business.
So, where do you start?
If you are a CEO or senior-level leader and this article resonated with you, I’d love to connect, hear more about your experience, and offer some insight that might be of help. Reach out by clicking here!