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Is loneliness the price you pay for success?

Few people on the leadership ladder realise quite how lonely it can be at the top and how failure to address feelings of isolation can hold them and their business back.

As leadership coaches, we’re trusted advisors to many CEOs and senior leaders. We know that loneliness doesn’t just affect the person feeling it, it has a ripple effect on their peers and teams.  

In this blog, we share seven ways to conquer loneliness for once and for all.

1. Face the facts

In order to achieve their goals, businesses need employees at all levels to be:

  • Productive
  • Engaged
  • Motivated
  • Fit and well

Unfortunately, loneliness:

  • Reduces productivity
  • Causes a loss of enjoyment
  • Generates tension
  • Reduces tolerance and empathy
  • Results in poor health

In a survey for the Mental Health Foundation in the early days of the first lockdown, 24% of UK adults said they felt lonely in the previous two weeks.

If a quarter of ‘everyday’ people can feel lonely, how much more prevalent an issue is it for leaders who are burdened by unique, even scary, responsibilities?

According to the Harvard Business Review, half of CEOs report feeling lonely in their role and, of this group, 61% feel that it hinders their performance. If we look at the CEOs as a workforce, over 30% would have a performance issue as a result of loneliness.

It therefore makes sense to tackle loneliness as we would any other performance issue. Admitting that there is a problem is the first step.

How authority changes everything

‘First-time CEOs are particularly susceptible to isolation. Nearly 70 percent of first-time CEOs who experience loneliness report that the feelings negatively affect their performance. These feelings are not limited to CEOs. In fact, loneliness and its repercussions can affect any individual with newfound authority. Leaders owe it to themselves — and more importantly, their organizations — to make sure this isolation does not impact their effectiveness.’

Thomas J. Saporito, Harvard Business Review

2. Build a trusted support network

We all need someone safe to unload onto, to bounce ideas off and who we can rely on to give us their honest feedback. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be someone that you work with on a day-to-day basis. As Amy Gallo wrote in the Harvard Business Review, ‘The higher up in the organization you get, the less likely you’ll receive constructive feedback on your ideas, performance, or strategy.’

So, if you can’t rely on your colleagues, who can you turn to?

We recommend asking a past CEO, a trusted board member and/or a spouse to provide the support you need.

3. Make connections

You can grow relationships with employees by finding new ways to interact with them, such as weekly group coffee breaks on Zoom, ‘ask me anything’ sessions or having 1:2:1s with employees from different departments. As well as reducing your loneliness, this could help generate new ideas for the business, strengthen employee relationships and grow your employer brand.

Although it can be harder to connect with other CEOs than with your own employees, following them on social media gives you the opportunity to learn from their leadership experiences. Leaders who are open about the challenges they face and the lessons they have learned include:

4. Make progress

It can feel as though your ability to progress is hampered by the constant need to make hundreds of small decisions. Developing and empowering your teams to take some of the burden will allow you to free up the time to achieve more meaningful goals. It will also give them a sense of autonomy and grow their self-worth.

5. A rounded life

There’s little point encouraging your team to have a work/life balance if you model the opposite behaviour. Don’t just be a leader, spend time outside work being a friend, relative, supporter or mentor. However busy you are, you still need some downtime, whether that be exercising, doing some manual work or gaining some much-needed perspective through journaling.

6. Develop your company culture

Creating a loneliness-resistant culture whose values support wellbeing, collaboration and development will benefit employees across the business. It also supports achievement of the business’s goals by increasing employee motivation and engagement. This can have a positive effect on employee productivity and retention.

David Chamberlain, one of our Co-Founders, comments, “Your strategy and culture should be linked. Strategy defines the rules of the game, culture defines how you decide to play. A collaborative culture fosters teamwork and reduces loneliness. A competitive culture has the opposite effect.”

7. Work with an Executive Coach

As coaches, we can act as external sounding board, allowing you to share frustrations, talk through challenges and find solutions in a supportive and confidential environment. By acting as a ‘critical friend’, we’ll help you work out how to navigate the challenges of leadership, such as loneliness, and improve your self-awareness and adaptability.

Summary

Loneliness doesn’t have to be the price you pay for success. If you’re ready to boost your performance by tackling loneliness head-on, please contact us today. 

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