Leadership and loneliness: 2 lessons

Updated: Jul 3

A leadership position offers a “fantastic view” (as it is put in an old saying), but indeed a lonely one. It is apparent for a person during the leadership tenure. It gets aggravated during the transition period, when for instance, an executive is considering an alternative placement and, or wishes to exit the current business.



A leadership position offers a “fantastic view” (as it is put in an old saying), but indeed a lonely one. It is apparent for a person during the leadership tenure. It gets aggravated during the transition period, when for instance, an executive is considering an alternative placement and, or wishes to exit the current business.


Having worked with both, below are lessons and tactics learnt (all - I observed in practice, being part of implementation and outcome assessment). More - to be discovered in the future.


Lesson 1. Changing lenses, using the right term


If one searches for information on the subject of executive loneliness he is likely to run into a set of fairly confusing titles: "Feeling Lonely? That Means You're Actually a Good Leader" (link) and "This is how to prevent loneliness as a leader" (link). Who is right?


I ought to acknowledge that the use of term loneliness itself is not necessarily accurate, as it is a synonym of “isolation”, “limitation”. This makes the word to be perceived as a negative phenomenon and state of mind. Probably among others, the term “aloneness” will be a more appropriate one.


As one Russian philosopher of the early 20th century noted, “There are only two things that are happening to us in loneliness: death and comprehension (cognition). Another person neither can die for us nor can he comprehend something for us”.

Comprehension is the premise of leadership. Robust corporate culture across all levels, sound governance (including an effective board of directors) and strong management team by his side - is there to support a leadership mandate. Yet it takes advanced comprehension capabilities of a leader to create all the above to guide the ship in murky or stormy waters.

There are certain things we are born to do alone. If aloneness of a leader is inevitable and natural, they can't be negative.


Lesson 2. Invest, develop own system for better comprehension and effective decision-making process


If the loneliness is not a negative thing, rather a natural and inevitable, then there is no use to fight or contemplate about it.


Instead - focus on things that are important, address the weaknesses in your decision making process and comprehension (lack of information, excess of information, contextual emotions, untamed ego, conflicting views around and own biases).


The below list might not be comprehensive in its detail, however, it outlines the main tactics used by executives to achieve objective articulated above.


  • Take a challenge, habit builder, for minimum (use your number) days consciously track situations of elevated stress and remind yourself (consciously - repeated word will stay here) that: it is very likely that both stress and pressure experienced is just a projection of own reality, rather the way other people see it and moreover care of it.

  • Impartial person advice when dealing with company politics - a help could come from an unexpected source, for instance, a grandfather. This is not a joke, a much older than you person often doesn't need to understand the concepts of performance appraisal, buy-in partnership or activist investor strategies, but has one big advantage - the different perception of time and (in)significance of many things at a lifespan scale.

  • Depending on the degree of severity of anticipated implications - the advice of a good (ideally, brilliant) lawyer. Irrespective whether you need his or her service today - to identify a pool of qualified and specialized lawyers is essential when aiming at gaining and sustaining leadership position. Such identification might take time, and given the mobility of today business world - in the situation of geographical relocation always better to start building relationships and picking your legal advisers earlier enough before you need them.

  • Dealing with unknown while transitioning to a new company or being challenges by industry competition - some would rightfully be called me being biased as a former management consultant and coach - but human expertise of a coach and industry expertise of a management adviser could lead to unique insights and breakthroughs. Speaking about advisory firms - it is the service offered by the majority of Big4 and Big3 companies called something like Leadership CEO / CFO / CIO labs for individuals.


IMPORTANT - be clear about whose service you avail to achieve specific result. 

Consultant - person who knows the industry trends, companies' benchmarks and KPIs, who has dealt with similar situations happening on cross-industry basis. 

Mentor - person who previously experienced the same pathway, faced similar challenges, has been or is currently in the position you would like to in. 

Coach - person who is helping your innate intelligence to come out, bringing the best of you, where that best is your internal capabilities of managing various situations.

  • Having defined principles for decision-making that are shared, articulated with the team and exercised constantly on an individual level. It will be an unnecessary repetition and reference to the work of Ray Dalio, who has influenced the decision-makers of our time in the most remarkable way. The practical process of developing and implementing principles - available in Dalio's book, his LinkedIn articles and numerous interviews.


Each bullet of the above might require a dedicated action plan and commitment.

But it is not something extra, it is part of the responsibilities pack coming with a leadership mandate.

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© 2020 by Natalia Sycheva