To Avoid Feeling “Lonely at the Top”!
By Leadership Keynote Speaker Connie Podesta
We’ve all heard that it can be “lonely at the top.” Well most recent studies, books, and articles agree. They show that many top leaders feel isolated and weighed down by their position? With no one to talk to? And no one with whom to bear the burden of their job? And that isolation can play havoc with their confidence. The decisions they make. And their overall ability to lead effectively.
I get it! I’m certainly no stranger to loneliness. I am constantly traveling – alone. I work in my home office alone. I stay in hotels alone. I eat dinners at fancy restaurants alone. Which is in direct opposition to my personality. I’m an outgoing person who loves being around people. My friends and family used to worry about me until I convinced them that over time I had discovered how NOT to feel alone even when I’m all by myself a huge amount of the time.
And that makes all the difference in the world.
I’ve been working with leaders for more than 30 years. All kinds. Ages. Industries. Levels. Cultures. Ethnicities. Men and women. And I’ve learned this about loneliness add space …
It’s not about how many people are around you at any given time. It’s about how many quality connections and relationships you’ve made along the way. I’ve counseled people who were surrounded by family and friends and yet felt … Lonely.
Just as I’ve worked with some amazing leaders who have a very few select people in their life and feel space… blessed and surrounded. Not lonely at all.
Here are the top 10 tips to get out of the isolated, only-me rut and enjoy life at the top even more:
- Quit thinking the word “leader” means you aren’t still part of a team. Surround yourself with people you like. Trust. Believe in. Admire. Respect. Many leaders complain to me about all the tough decisions they have to make “on their own.” But usually, I discover that’s not the case at all. They could have sought input. Collaborated. Asked advice. Put their head together with people they trust. But they chose not to do that. Instead they made the decision on their own – which was often the wrong decision because they didn’t do their homework and learn from the people who were really in the know ‑ and then had to live with a disappointed, angry team that felt it didn’t count.
- Quit forgetting the importance of connecting with other professionals outside your own company. Make friends with people in your position (or a similar position) in other companies. I have developed close friendships with other speakers who understand exactly what I’m going through. We share resources. We refer one another. But mostly – we talk shop. All the nitty gritty annoyances, frustrations and ups and downs that only another person doing the same job can relate to. You’re never alone when a professional friend is only a phone call away. Believe me, I speak to tens of thousands of leaders a year from all industries throughout the world and the cool thing is space… most problems leaders have are the same no matter what job. Company. Organization. Or industry. We have tons in common with lots of people. Just seek them out. And develop the relationships.
- Quit blowing off industry conferences because you are “too busy” or “already know it all.” I spend my life keynoting major conferences. And often people say to me. “Boy, my boss should have been here to hear this!” Or “I wish our VP was here. It would have been nice for her to get to know everyone better.” I still belong to the National Speakers Association after 30 years in this business. Not only do I still learn something new every time but it’s the networking in the halls. The bars. The restaurants. That’s where the magic is. I hear new strategies. Listen to innovative ideas. Debate what’s working and what isn’t. And, most importantly, just have fun. You get to let loose, take a break from the day-to-day of your work, and simply enjoy being with people who have the same common goal as you. Just open the door to not always focusing on work. And the icing on the cake is you just might learn something at the same time.
- Quit letting work totally define you. Believe me I get it. I love my job! It is indeed a defining moment for me each and every time I go on stage to speak. And I meet leaders every day who feel the same way about their jobs. However, it is important that you put just as much energy, expertise and creativity into developing areas and relationships outside of work that replicate these same feelings of strength. Power. Confidence. Purpose. If work totally consumes you and it is the absolutely ONLY place you feel empowered, excited and confident, then you will experience more loneliness – at work and away from it. Great leaders, during their most isolated, difficult times at work, reach out to the people outside their job circle for some hard-hitting advice. A bit of tough love. A compassionate hug. Or an offer to go for a cup of coffee and just “vent.” If you are totally defined by work, then there’s no place to turn for support when things are not going as planned. Goals are overdue. Numbers are down. Or tough decisions have to be made. Let LIFE define you instead of just work.
- Quit forgetting that successful professional skills are also successful personal skills. Top leaders understand it takes a serious investment of time and energy to keep their businesses alive and thriving. They stay focused during tough times. Collaborate for best results. Look for solutions rather than complain. Pay attention to the needs of their team. And remain engaged. And that’s exactly how they approach the “business” of keeping their personal life and relationships heathy and productive as well. The skills top leaders use at work to stay successful are – you guessed it – the same skills they use at home. Work skills are life skills.
- Quit forgetting the importance of friends. Leaders keep telling me “I don’t have time for friends.” It’s true. Nurturing friendships certainly does take time. But the results are so worth the investment. And it’ not nearly as much time as you think. Great leaders reach out. Often. In many ways. An email here. A Facebook like there. A quick cup of coffee when an appointment cancels last minute. And they have all sorts of friends in different places. Different spaces. Because different people fill different roles and that’s a wonderful thing. Work friends. Old school friends. Family friends. Industry friends. Club friends. What friends do you have that need a quick “thinking of you” today? Just a tiny spark of energy to keep the friendship going. When I feel lonely on the job, I go to my list and connect with someone who can hear my worries. Make me laugh. Or simply say “Oh my God! That just happened to me yesterday!” Nothing sweeter than friends.
- Quit thinking you have all the answers. Great leaders don’t even pretend to have all the answers! First, because they are smart enough to know they’re not smart enough. And two, because it’s so annoyingly off-putting to those around us. No wonder some people are lonely – they push everyone away by trying to out-think, out-do, and out-smart everyone they meet. Great leaders, on the other hand, ask for help. Look for answers. Involve others in decisions. And empower their teams to step up to the plate and be heard. As a result, their team sincerely enjoys having them as a leader. And work becomes not only more productive and profitable but more fun as well. Bottom line: Most tough decisions would be far less gut-wrenching and more in line with super results if more people were involved.
- Quit forgetting to have FUN. Many leaders I work with have basically stopped being fun. Or having fun. Or even remembering what fun looks and sounds like. And the no-fun zone my friends is a very lonely place to be. Make room in your life to do things you enjoy. On the job and off the job. Great leaders work hard to find a career that fulfills their life passion. But if it doesn’t, then they find some people at work they enjoy. Take breaks with them. Eat lunch with them. They try and make meetings more engaging. Smile in the hall. Find something that gives you joy and figure out how to squeeze it into your life. Take as much time as you can squeeze in. It’s hard to feel lonely when you’re having fun.
- Quit living without purpose. It creates a sense of loneliness if we don’t feel what we are doing has any purpose. Even speakers need a WHY. It’s not enough to just say we love talking. We have to go deeper if we are to ever connect with an audience. My WHY is “I want to help people understand people!” What’s your why? And it must be greater than just “leading people.” Leading them how? Teaching them to do what? Mentoring them to go where? And your answers have to make you feel good about the value you bring to the table. Whatever it is for you, it should help you derive meaning from the day-in and day-out practice of life. This way, just doing your job and meeting expectations isn’t your sole life goal.
- Quit being out of alignment with your values. Loneliness creeps in when we are living life in a way that is not in alignment with what we believe, value, and wish for. Often people I coach are sad. Disappointed in themselves. Or simply hate their lives. So, I give them a chance to list for me all the things they’d like to have in a perfect world. And most answers fall into five main categories. Better relationships. A healthier body. More financial security. A job they love. And space… they want to be happier. Then we talk about reality. And usually a contradictory picture begins to surface. They want a better marriage, but they spend most of their time away from home. Want to be healthy, but eat junk and don’t exercise. Want more money, but buy things they don’t need. Hate their job but have no plan to change. Want to be happier, but make choices destined to bring the anything but happiness. What do you value? How do you picture your future? Are you making the kind of choices now that will bring about the results you want?
Want to learn more about getting the most from life as a leader? Consider my latest book, Happiness is Serious Business. It’s all about taking life, and business to the next level with a whole lot more happiness thrown in.