Feb 24, 2023
The Loneliness in Leadership
When we speak of “leadership” most people unsurprisingly think of CEOship.
The reality is that although CEOs are certainly leaders, there are other leaders in the organisation apart from the CEO.
Every person who has the responsibility for other people, is a leader of those people, regardless of where in the organisation they find themselves.
The CEO is the leader of the entire organisation, but the field supervisors, for example, are responsible for, and the leaders of, the people and functions under their control. A leader is frequently very lonely in the role – not because they don’t have people to talk to, but because they can’t say certain things to certain people.
This is not about “friendship” but about effectiveness. Everybody wants to be friends with the leader – it feels nice, it empowers the friend, and it strokes the ego – and that’s all OK and fairly natural. But the leader needs to be circumspect about what they say and to whom.
A leader contemplating a major change “down” the organisation knows pretty much the impact it will have on their direct reports and others. They also know that the moment the topic is raised with those direct reports, even if the possibility of it is remote, there will be an immediate reaction (psychological and emotional) in those who know about it.
The reaction may not be visible or spoken but it will still be there. Will I lose my job? How will it affect my salary? How will it affect my responsibilities? Will I lose my staff? Will I be relocated? Will I report to someone else?
These reactions, not surprisingly, create stress and concern. An intelligent and thoughtful leader is therefore unlikely to discuss the topic “down” the organisation when they suspect such a reaction.
Similarly, a leader may be disinclined to discuss certain issues with the manager to whom they report. The reasons are fairly straight forward: they don’t want to be seen as “not knowing” or not being able to manage or cope.
When we talk of CEOs then they are loathe to “admit” their skill gaps to the Board or the Chairman. Most CEOs in large organisations are in their roles for an average of 3 to 5 years. They commonly use their current incumbency to provide the foundation for their next professional move.
Therefore, they are loathe to display short-comings in skill or managerial competency, in front of those who may be involved or influential in their next career move. What leaders need is someone to discuss matters with who is independent, experienced and strategically and operationally capable.
They need a mentor-in-confidence who has no barrow to push – apart from the well-being of their mentee. Someone outside the organisation. Someone who can be available whenever the leader needs to discuss a matter of concern.
If you’re currently a leader – do you have someone suitable to talk to?
If you relate to this leadership challenge, please contact us for a chat at [email protected]