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Insidious loneliness of the six-figure leader

This is still a thing!

There have been almost thirty years of it being cool to have a coach and at least fifteen where leadership development is on the menu at most organisations. It doesn’t mean you’re not well-liked and open at work, don’t have friends, and your diaries are not jammed.

What it does mean, however, is that you might not have confidentes who are truly useful to you, to think through complexities with, that you often feel alone in your leadership. You get tired of holding the emotions for the organisation and being ‘on’ all the time. It’s more nuanced than the straight forward definition of loneliness for the six-figure leader.

What’s going on?

Two things are going on that might be contributing:

  1. Organisations have changed significantly over the decades. They are now rarely places where people expect to spend their whole careers, and they don’t offer the social containment of job security they once did (I’m on my 5th career). The role of the employee has changed – at any given time, the work of the organisation can be done by contractors, part-timers, partners, collaborators, seconded staff as well as regular staff. You’ve got to lead all of them. And you’ve got to get on top of the role of leadership is evolving away from top-down to more democratic and collaborative approaches – and you may not know anyone who’s doing this well and have too much information to process from books and courses.

  2. There’s been a corresponding drop in psychological safety felt in employees. This means they might not have enough time, say yes to too much, be worried about how their behaviour now impacts the future, and not be connected to much, meaning their tasks are and are afraid of negative consequences of doing anything ‘unsanctioned’. It doesn’t matter how ‘woke’ the organisation is. It doesn’t take much to trigger a negative reaction in your staff (and you’re unlikely to know it’s happened) when they’re in survival fear mode.

Leading in the traditional sense in this environment is pretty tricky if you want to do anything other than dictate from the top. And if you dictate from the top, you stay lonely.

Here are a few ideas of what you can be doing to sort this out:

  1. The main one is being up for being not lonely. Make an effort to work out what you need and go out and get it. It’s a tricky thing to get right at first; persevere and don’t be afraid to dump what you realise is not right; sorry, respectfully let go of…..

  2. You get this from a Drum – a meeting of peers you know you have stuff in common with (we have a way of ensuring this before you commit). Chat to me about how you get in with your peers to work this through – it’s a very cool experience.

  3. Get a therapist as well. It’ll be one hour at a time where someone else gets to do the heavy lifting, and you get to hear yourself and sort some stuff out. It’s all about you. You must know that self-awareness marks outstanding leaders from the mediocre. You’ll know people who have one and can make recommendations. I do if you don’t.

  4. Get some air space in your diary. Really, who can do their best thinking when you can’t get a cigarette paper between appointments? It’s ridiculous.

Drum eliminates leadership loneliness by bringing together leaders at the same level who can be open, vulnerable, honest and real about what’s going on in their business. It’s a place to put down their burden and get support from others who know exactly what it is like to be them.

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