Lonely at the Top: Why Good Leaders Must Learn to Manage Loneliness
Leaders spend their days surrounded by people, so the last thing they might expect is to feel alone. And yet for many CEOs, founders, and other leaders, being the person solely responsible for a company’s ultimate fate and direction, as well as the livelihood of its many employees can lead to feelings of true isolation and profound loneliness.
What determines someone’s loneliness is not the objective quantity of their relationships nor the extent to which they seem well liked or respected, but rather whether they perceive themselves to be emotionally isolated. As such, it is not a matter of how many people they have around them. Leaders, especially those at the top and those who are called upon to make crucial and often brutal decisions that impact the lives of many people, can easily feel as though they have no true peers, because sometimes they do not.
Leaders spend their days surrounded by people, so the last thing they might expect is to feel alone.
Despite how common it is for top leaders to experience loneliness, few leaders anticipate such feelings and fewer still know how to deal with them when they arise. Yet it is urgent they do so. Loneliness is a common psychological injury but when left untreated, it can have severe implications for one’s mental and physical health.
Therefore, leaders and others who experience loneliness should consider the following:
1. Monitor your health and emotional well being so that if feelings of loneliness persist for more than two weeks, you can take further action.
2. Be mindful of your emotional state and whether it is having an impact on your performance, decision-making, or how you communicate with direct reports.
3. Reach out to other top leaders in your network (preferably those in a different ‘space’ or a different branch of industry) and develop personal friendships. Having a ‘peer’ who wrestles with similar stresses and feelings can afford you support and help you feel less alone.
4. Integrate ways of managing stress into your life, especially when the demands of your role become greater such as at critical junctures or times of transition—those can exacerbate feelings of loneliness.
5. If you have concerns about confidentiality or reputation and do not feel comfortable seeking out friendships with peers, consider seeing a reputable mental health professional to discuss your feelings and to gain support and guidance.
Yes, it is lonely at the top but there are things leaders can do to mitigate the feelings of loneliness that are so common to their positions. Of course, loneliness is but one of the many psychological injuries we sustain in daily life. Applying emotional first aid to common emotional wounds when we sustain them will help maintain mental health and increase emotional resilience for top leaders and entry-level employees alike.
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