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What Can You Do If You Feel Lonely As A Leader?

Written by: Ágnes Vad, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Agnes, you don’t want to be a leader. Leaders are always lonely. – he said by looking at me straightly and with wisdom in his eyes. Ehh! It doesn’t always have to be that way! – I thought but didn’t say a word and left the room. At that time, I was a 24-year old newbie in marketing, and he was 36 years old. He was the general manager and hired me two years before this conversation.


More than 15 years later, we met at a business conference again. I was already over some other workplaces, several achievements and leadership positions, and even marriage by that time. You were right – I said by looking straightly at him –, leadership is a lonely role. Ehh! It doesn’t always have to be that way! – he said and smiled at me.


And he was right – again.


But first, let’s see why isolation is so connected to a leadership role?


Loneliness is often the way of a leader as he cannot voice his fears openly and are alone with many decisions. Leaders often have no one to help them with certain things. In addition, it is not helping that many people think (and even expect) that their leaders are fearless. Indeed, the very nature of leadership makes you a lonely person because being a leader means being ahead of the crowd.


All in all, leaders often experience isolation at greater levels than most employees as leaders have tons of decisions and tasks, lots of pressure, and information they need to keep confidential … but only a few or no peers to talk to!


I also remember the feeling of being in the middle of people and feeling completely lonely. This memory came from when I was already a leader with a team around – it seemed like there were plenty of opportunities to connect, and I was still failing to do so.


I failed because I saw a gap.


I created that gap by assuming power differences, being afraid to reveal too much personal, holding confidential information that cannot be shared, and the general pressure of scaling a business into a sustainable place. All this created my isolation for a long time.


So when the question comes about who is the loneliest person at a company? You might not be too surprised that it’s probably the leader (CEO if you like). Harvard Business Review also reported that more than 50% of CEOs report loneliness, and a majority of those CEOs found that it negatively affected their performance.


It is good to recognize that loneliness is a state of mind. However, in such a state, no one can do his best! Feeling isolated frequently over long periods can have a massive impact on health, including depression, stress, and poor decision-making.


So that is why addressing leader isolation and mental well-being is essential, mainly because it impacts everyone else at the company, as research has also shown that loneliness can be contagious!


If this is true, a team full of isolated or lonely people is not helpful for overall well-being or happiness. Even if that loneliness doesn’t grow, lonely people tend to increasingly self-isolate over time. Self-isolating leads to the distance between the leader and the team that can grow. It is impossible to communicate and collaborate effectively when there’s a mountain-sized space in between you.


And we build workplaces to create an impact on the world – and we have leaders and teams to achieve this impact. Loneliness at a workplace disconnects people and disconnects people from achievements too!


So loneliness should not be ignored!


But what can a leader do to maintain loneliness?


1. First of all, acknowledge that loneliness exists! Feeling lonely can be pretty awful, but eliminating (or trying to) loneliness in leadership is like deciding not to pay your bills. You can pretend that everything is fine for a while, but it always catches you in the end.


2. Note that loneliness is not necessarily a thing to fix, meaning that feeling lonely is not purely a bad thing (but can be awful still!); it shows that you are also a human! A human who is aware of and acknowledges his feelings is – that is loneliness at that point. These are positive attributes of excellent leadership and don’t need fixing!


3. Learn from it! Feeling lonely often connects with emptiness. Emptiness represents only the absence of something. So when something as important as relatedness and purpose and reality is missing, we try to find ways of replacing the missing elements as quickly as possible. Please don’t do that! I mean, don’t try only to fix and replace it but try to learn from it by:


a) Take your emotions seriously. Loneliness is unpleasant and bodes poorly for performance, and is associated with profound and adverse health outcomes like heart disease, cognitive decline, or depression.


b) Engage with Peers who get it! Engage in business and personal relationships with people who will celebrate with you in good times and typically encourage you in difficult situations. Develop relationships with leaders at other companies; they will relate to your situation, making you feel less alone. You can also join mastermind groups or create a mentoring relationship with a trusted person. You can consider hiring a coach to support you in finding ways to address your actual state and other opportunities in your situation.


c) Care about yourself

Give yourself a break and create space in your free time to be around people with whom you feel natural and know you well. Also, look for situations where you can just be yourself. Create routines that will power you up, like doing some sports or finding a hobby that you enjoy. Coaching is also a powerful support system that can really make a difference, so get an executive coach! The coach is trained in active listening and provides a safe and confidential place where you can just be yourself. Coaching offers you support to be your best – again.


So yes – being a leader can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to always be like that! You can learn to manage your emotions and continue your leadership journey by acknowledging your feelings!


In my experience, being a leader is probably the hardest and best thing I have ever done. It provides an incredible learning experience and gives me a solid base for supporting other leaders in their journey as a coach.


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


 

Ágnes Vad, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Ágnes Vad is a certified human potential and business coach with 18 years in marketing and 10+ years in cross-cultural leadership roles. Ágnes started her professional career in the multinational world in the marketing domain and built her thorough business acumen in parallel via the international leadership roles she was promoted to. She has been showing passion for working and leading people starting from the beginning of her career. She is a proud winner of the Leadership and Marketing Awards at her company. After 18 years, she decided to follow her passion and became a coach entrepreneur in 2019. In the last 2.5 years, she became an experienced and recognized professional in the coaching domain and has cc. 500 hours of coaching experience. She works with individuals and also with teams as a coach. She focuses on activating and maximizing human and leadership potential, emotional intelligence (EQ), mindfulness, and resilience.


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