BLOG - It’s Lonely at the Top - Leadership Loneliness

Monday 17th June 2019

This week, 17th - 21st June 2019 is Loneliness Awareness Week and it’s got me thinking…


I’ve worked away from home staying in hotels around the globe four nights a week for longer than I can remember. I love my job, it is my passion, and the opportunity to work globally and influence some of the world’s biggest brands and most exciting leaders is a real privilege. However, alongside this ‘day job’, at the same time I also play a leadership role in the partnership organisation I belong to, I am a parent, I am also a sibling, a friend, a partner, and someone who is a natural introvert, all of these things become compromised as a result of my commitment to my work and where it takes me.


So, I read with interest the Harvard report that over 50% of leaders experience loneliness. This feeling is embedded amongst many leaders regardless of their experience, qualifications or background, and can manifest itself in uninclusive and often demanding behaviour.


As leaders we need to open up, be authentic, be vulnerable, reach out and let our teams and colleagues know when we feel like we are out there on our own.


There is an assumption that because you hold a leadership position you are entirely self-sufficient, which is almost the polar opposite of the truth. ‘Leaders’ by their very name need people around them, people they can lead, and a key skill of many leaders is the art of delegation, using their team to support them to achieve the bigger picture. Very few, if any, leaders have climbed the ladder to where they are now without support from those around them.


Just because we are leaders that doesn’t mean we don’t need compassion or praise, we are simply expected to deliver these to others with little engagement or acknowledgement of our efforts in return. As leaders people don’t chat to us in the same way they do to their colleagues or include us in the day to day conversations that can help foster a sense of belonging, not only in our own organisations, but also when dealing with clients and partner organisations too.


Being lonely doesn’t just that mean you are alone, you can be surrounded by people and still feel entirely isolated. As leaders our teams and colleagues don’t consider us to be ‘one of the gang’. Of course, there are positives to this, and being excluded from non-essential informal communications can be a sign that you’re doing things right, and that your teams know that there are clear boundaries. While your ‘door is always open’, they allow you to balance your interaction without becoming bogged down and risking conflicts of interest. Your team around you continue to bond and strengthen their relationships without you, and after all, its sport to whisper about the boss.


As leaders we usually converse with our teams by text or email, more often than not in a hurry with one-line replies and an understanding and trust that they are capable and competent to do their jobs, and don’t need their hands holding. All too often we forget to pick up the phone, despite the fact it’s in our hands more than we would like to admit, it’s almost as if we seem to have forgotten what it was originally created for. We worry that neither us nor our teams have the time for a quick chat just to catch up and check in, and they mirror this behaviour from us, so this can create a negative cycle.


It is imperative that as leaders we recognise and acknowledge loneliness and what it means, and how this impacts on our behaviour. We shouldn’t neglect the basic acts of kindness towards each other regardless of the number of stripes on our arms or theirs. We can find growth and reflection in loneliness, and we have an opportunity here this week to engage with our peers who get what this means and can relate to what it feels like, and we can be there for each other to each other know we aren’t the only ones who feel lonely.


So today as I sit full of cold in a beautiful hotel room, I have reached out to some of my long term colleagues and shared how I am feeling today, and that has made this room feel slightly less intimidating, and given me the strength to push on to achieve all I need to this week and make me feel a little less lonely.