The Loneliness of Leadership
One of the dirty little secrets about leadership is the loneliness. I hear stories from my clients every day. It isn’t the responsibility that gets to them, or even the long hours or the stress, it’s the sense of being alone. There is a disconnect from peers, as people move up the proverbial ladder in organizations and they begin to feel the weight of making decisions alone without enough input from their colleagues.
As leaders, we all know we have to maintain boundaries with staff. It is hard to socialize with the team on Friday night and then call them out to do better work on Monday morning. This makes sense and yet those boundaries can create isolation that is difficult for leaders to navigate.
Here’s a few strategies to help to combat the loneliness of leadership:
1. Actively create a mentor relationship. Reach out to someone you see as a mentor or would like to see as a mentor. Talk openly about wanting a mentor and how you think of him/her in that way. Ask if you can get together a few times a year for a mentor conversation. Then schedule the first meeting right then. Always schedule the next session when you are together.
2. Make two new friends outside of work. Friends help. You don’t need a lot of friends, but having a couple of folks outside of work can really help you feel connected to other human beings. Also, if things get tough at work, it is nice to have people to talk to about it. I said two new friends because we seek out people who resonate with our current selves. You may have old friends but they may be in a very different place than you are. You may need some new friends to meet you where you are.
3. Have working lunches with people who report to you. I have always found it difficult to negotiate lunch when I had a team reporting to me. There are so many complicated dynamics. That said, you can make lunch productive and avoid eating alone if you occasionally invite a direct report to a “Development Lunch.” Use it to talk about their hopes and dreams for the future and get to know them in a deeper but appropriately work related way. Your job is to be a friendlier professional boss with their interests in mind.
4. Invite colleagues and influential people in the organization to lunch. Make connections over lunch that might help your career. It will make you feel like the people at the top are more friendly, and if you play your cards right, it might help your career. Remember, in these lunches manners matter. Be kind, gracious, polite and reserved. Don’t talk about your problems, ask what they are struggling with.
5. Hire a coach. Leadership is lonely because at the heart of it all, there is no one who wants to hear your deepest darkest problems. You got promoted because you are a problem solver and everyone wants you to stay that way. Hire a coach and tell her (or him) your deepest problems and work on them together. A coach can help you talk through your challenges and collaborate to come up with next steps. Forbes recently reported on “a recent global survey of coaching clients by Price Waterhouse Cooper and the Association Resource center which concluded that the mean ROI for companies investing in coaching was 7 times the initial investment, with over a quarter reporting an ROI of 10 to 49 times.” It can pay off for you, too, and help to combat the Loneliness of Leadership.