Are you a lonely leader?

“Loneliness is a required course for leadership.” – Elisabeth Elliot

You often hear the phrase “it’s lonely at the top” when describing leadership roles, but what does that mean and why does it matter?

According to Merriam-Webster, lonely is being without company, cut off from others. Many of our clients also describe being a leader as feeling isolated.

So why does it matter if you are a lonely leader? This Forbes article has outlined four ways loneliness can show up in a leader.

  1. Loss of enjoyment, a sense that things are gray than usual.
  2. Tension, fear, and anxiety, such as a sense of clenching the jaw or holding your breath.
  3. Loss of empathy and limited tolerance for one’s own and others’ imperfections that makes people irritable, judgmental, and hard to be around.
  4. Uncertainty and distress about what if anything is amiss, other than the extreme circumstances.

Many leaders assume being lonely is part of the job or, as some say, “it comes with the territory,” but does it have to be? Does being a leader automatically mean you are lonely?

In our experience working in leadership development, the following are ways you can increase connection and minimize loneliness:

  • Mentor – Identifying a former boss or confidant to explore challenges and pathways can be incredibly beneficial. Getting insight from a leader you respect and may have been in a similar situation allows you to open up to another perspective.
  • Executive Coach – Working with an Executive Coach allows you the opportunity to work on your development as a leader, including goals, and they also encourage 360 feedback from your employees. Receiving 360 feedback encourages self-reflection and provides growth edges to evolve. Leveraging a Coach is also a safe and confidential place to voice concerns or ideas, and a much more appropriate place to share raw emotions vs. with colleagues or direct reports.
  • Peer Group – There are many organizations out there, like Vistage, that bring leaders together across industries to foster relationships and share experiences as leaders navigate their role.
  • Your Leadership Team – Although there may be many things you can’t discuss with your leadership team, there are ways to include them at the top. Your leadership team can relate to the complexities within your organization and be a great sounding board, even if the final decision is up to you.
  • Hobbies/Activities – It’s important to have an outlet outside of your professional and personal life that is your own. Focusing on a hobby or activity for your well-being can make a tremendous impact on your overall mindset.

The key to overcoming loneliness as a leader is identifying ways to connect, whether that be with your team, a mentor or coach, a peer group or even with yourself through your passions. By increasing your connection, you are enriched by the curiosity, experiences, and perspectives of others, allowing you to become a stronger leader.

Here are resources we found helpful on the topic: