Leadership: If it’s Lonely at the Top, it’s Time to Make a Change

Leadership: If it’s Lonely at the Top, it’s Time to Make a Change 

Mindy Barker | Barker Associates

“It’s lonely at the top!” We’ve heard that phrase circulated amidst leadership conversations for years. But what exactly does it mean? Is the perception different from the reality? And, more importantly, what does it say about our own leadership styles? 

Clearly, it’s not a literal statement. As leaders, we are surrounded by other people (often more so than we may like). Rather, it is a statement born out of one’s personality, emotions, and ability to shift perspective. Loneliness in these terms is not referring to physical isolation, but from an inability to make connections at work due to the position itself. Maybe you’re not invited to lunch anymore. Maybe you’re not on the inside track of the office jokes that everyone else seems to get. But that’s okay. Ultimately, you’re not there to make friends.

Some leadership aspects lend themselves to justifying the phrase. Whether you’re the CEO, the CFO, or in another management position, leaders are the ones who bear much of the responsibilities in a constant attempt to balance the ever-increasing demands from both sides – higher management and staff. There are deadlines, operational issues, risk management issues, financials to be filed, and problems to be solved. This is particularly true for women leaders, who often struggle to find support from like-minded women who have the same abilities and the same challenges. It is also particularly true for financial leaders.

Financial leaders often struggle with discovering the right combination of leadership responsibilities and deadline based tactical responsibilities. They find it difficult to stay engaged with the professionals they lead, because, well, some deadline is usually fast-approaching. Yet, they understand that it is no longer possible to focus solely on the tactical aspects of their jobs. If they want to move up to the CFO level, they cannot do it alone. Rather, they must engage with those whom they lead.

Are We Doing Something Wrong?

Despite the reasons, the idea of being lonely as a leader still doesn’t sit right. In fact, John Maxwell has noted, “If you are lonely at the top, then you are doing something wrong.”

Consider this: if you are alone, it could be concluded that no one is following you. And if no one is following you, how can you lead effectively? Our job, as leaders, is to build relationships, build trust, and make those we lead better at what they do, helping them ascend, as we have. Once we fully accept those responsibilities, we understand that in order to achieve our goals, we must connect to those we lead in more impactful ways, including coaching and collaboration (with little time to be lonely). 

The most obvious impacts of loneliness as a leader are on those we are leading, who may feel abandoned. However, it may also affect our own ability to do our jobs effectively. For example, good decisions never arise out of negative emotions, including loneliness. As such, decision-making, a crucial component of leadership, could also be affected when we shut ourselves off. 

Lonely at the Top No More

While some of the physical circumstance may be unavoidable – you do have a separate office, you’re not privy to some of the same conversations, you may struggle to find support, strategies to stay engaged with your team abound. In their implementation, not only will you be less isolated, you’ll ultimately be leading in more effective ways. 

Top Five Tips to Staying Engaged (and to not being lonely):

1. Be Visible. Your team needs to know you are there and accessible. Have an open-door policy and encourage others to use it. 

2. Collaborate. No leader operates alone. You don’t have all the answers. None of us do. Increasing collaboration among the team not only increases creativity, it also increases the value placed on relationships and productivity. 

3. Coach. Much of your responsibility as a leader rests with the development of others. Embrace that responsibility. Remember that in order for you to move up, others must do so as well. 

4. Actively listen. Your team is valuable and so are their voices, whether they are in consensus or have diverse points of view, show them that you care about what they have to say.  

5. Accept Change. Understand and accept that relationships will shift based on your leadership position, but those relationships still need cultivation. 

Leaders shouldn’t sit in detached isolation at the top of the organizational chart. Rather, we should immerse ourselves into the organization’s culture and people. With bonding comes energy and with energy comes relationships. And only through those relationships can we bring out the best in others. Loneliness dissipates because we are highly engaged with those around us, not sitting alone behind the closed doors of a corner office. 

Barker Associates has extensive experience with collaborative management styles, assisting organizations as they achieve increased productivity and efficiency. Use this link to my calendar to choose the best time for your free 30-minute consultation. 

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