Leadership Can Be Lonely: How Do You Really Step Outside Of Yourself To Connect?
Leadership Lesson: Loneliness is trending toward becoming an epidemic, but a similar, powerful emptiness — an unfulfilled and psychological need – can also exist in leadership.
Loneliness can rob us of our best lives, in which we could get to know others on a deeper level and utilize and develop our greatest abilities. At the same time, it robs others of the opportunity to know us and realize, and benefit from, what we could provide.
These two articles outline the growing severity and proliferation of loneliness in society:
Much in the same way loneliness is detrimental in people’s personal lives, it can also negatively impact leaders in their official capacities.
In working with and interviewing leaders, many of them have corroborated for me the general belief that it is lonely at the top. They have viewed leadership positions, especially ones which serve in official capacities, as lonely, because the positions were at the top of whichever group it was they were overseeing. In those types of roles, they feel there is no one to turn to with their stresses, concerns, and fears.
To compound the problem, leaders may mistakenly believe that their responsibility as a leader requires steadfast, impenetrable confidence, through and through. They feel they cannot look vulnerable or appear as if they are in need of assistance. But this is a costly misperception which can be quite detrimental to the leader.
Leaders need to understand that they too have a need to connect with others and get their concerns heard, acknowledged, and addressed, no matter their seniority level. Everyone needs a trusted sounding board.
Although the lessons in the articles above are about general life, there are lessons that are transferable to other areas of life, including the workplace. This isn’t to understate the importance of understanding the greater loneliness in life covered in the articles but instead to underscore the awareness and true scope of where loneliness can be found.
For our purposes, below are some ways to minimize loneliness in leadership, by using some of the tips outlined for general loneliness. We can work toward that goal by considering how we address people, value, meaning, and cross-function.
Build Connections With Other People
It’s important for us to determine what it is we need from other people, in order to work toward making professional connections fulfilling. Once we do that, we can take steps and make a proactive attempt to improve those relationships.
But, to begin this process, we should be:
- Reaching Out To Others More – Work to invest more time with, and reach out more to, those to whom we haven’t in the past.
- Seeking Out The Right People – Work to connect with people who can contribute to your growth. Stagnation can be an accelerant of loneliness. Most of us have a need to feel as if we’re moving forward. We need to have that need met. Meeting the right people can energize us and move us forward.
- Building Genuine Relationships – Work to find deeper meaning in those connections by getting to know (the right) people beyond the responsibility of the environment. We can’t just interact facade to facade. That is where we get lost in disconnection.
Create Your Own Value In Your Work
It’s important to create true value in your work – not just for the mission and organization, but also for yourself.
On one hand, there definitely is the need to complete work and projects, delivering on deadlines and coming through for a client. But is there more that you can provide of yourself – untapped value – which would make your job more fulfilling?
Providing value has a way of energizing you. That energized feeling can contribute toward providing for others, establishing deeper connections and creating greater satisfaction for yourself.
Related Post: Do You Understand The True Value You Provide To Others?
Discover or Create Meaning In Your Environment
Aside from value provided to others outlined in the previous bullet, how is the meaning you’re seeking in life represented in your responsibilities?
There are ways to bring your overall life goals into your role, to some extent or another. Whether it’s serving others internally in your organization or group, or a cause in the local or greater community, how can you achieve your own sense of meaning through what you provide to others?
Cross-Function Your Relationship Abilities
Improving relationships in one area of your life reinforces the value in those relationships, but it also reinforces and guides you in other relationships in other unrelated areas. This is because working on relationships in one area sharpens your ability to acknowledge, understand, and strengthen your value exchanged in relationships, no matter the setting.
Before anything else – any other skill, ability or knowledge – workplace settings are about connecting with people.
We’re all people. The foundational connection and strength starts there, and then improves through the workplace operations and skills.
Overall, rectifying an issue such as loneliness in one area of life can teach us the tools to address similar issues in other areas. There’s a similarity that exists in the initial approach, before the steps need to be customized to the environment in question.
The initial approach entails breaking down the matter into the steps of realization, analysis, assessment, adjustment, and reassessment. Yes, this may sound formulaic and calls to mind the scientific method, but it works to achieve an objective perspective that can help us undo the approaches to, beliefs in, and causes of our biggest problems.
It may seem cold to take the emotion out of behaviors in leadership, but to begin with a procedural approach in reassessment can temporarily ease the emotional attachment to the result, in order to get the ball rolling and make some progress in development.
We need to think about and see things differently than we might have leading up to the current situation or issue. Albert Einstein said it best: “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.” We should step outside of ourselves and our way of thinking, in order to see things (and possibly the path forward) more clearly.
None of this advice is to take the place of mental health screening, needs, and treatment, which cannot – and should not – be addressed in coaching sessions. Coaching shouldn’t pass for therapy. It falls on coaches, ethically, to determine when there truly is a need for coaching, whether it’s for leadership or life, and when there might be a need for mental health resolution.
Yes, there are cases when someone needs to address both life and leadership, but coaches need to be able to identify if true leadership coaching is needed — and when. For instance, if someone does need both leadership and mental health help, it is typically best to have the person seek out the mental health side of assistance before beginning the leadership development in their journey.
Mental health is an underpinning and foundation of leadership development. If the mind feels foggy, in general, then it is not optimal for development and growth…yet.
Like anything else, the foundation needs to be stabilized before any progress forward — and up – can be made.