Stop Being Lonely at the Top!
Sherpa Wisdom for Leaders
The view from the highest point of a summit on a crystal-clear day is so breath-taking that a foolish leader filled with visions of their own greatness will forget that everything in life is but a moment in time. The very same mountain top can become one of the harshest, loneliest and most miserable places in the world if you’re all alone and a series of storms threaten your safety.
Don’t set yourself up for a fall if your title or your rise to the top create an illusion that you and you alone can lead your team. Since all leaders can be replaced, you need your team more than they need you. You also need a reliable feedback system so you can avoid a proven leadership trap, “Leadership Isolation.”
Why are Leaders Often Starved for Friendships?
Most leaders feel isolated because they are tightly sandwiched between two layers of people the executive position is accountable to. Most leaders say they cannot be totally open or forthcoming with either of the two.
- Upper layer: Immediate superior, top management and Board of Directors
- Lower layer: Direct reports, team members and other employees
The following are just a few examples of how many leaders unwittingly construct a wall between themselves and both of these layers. Notice how isolation can cripple executive effectiveness by choking off the supply of essential information from both sides of the sandwich.
- Many leaders who have no guaranteed tenure strive to consistently convince upper management that the executive has everything under control. When they choose not to share their authentic worries, they apply a tourniquet that shuts off the flow of potentially helpful advice from upper management.
- Leaders aren’t allowed to share certain privileged information with their team members and other direct reports. An example of this type of required withholding of information is when upper management is planning a corporate reorganization or when other sensitive information / negotiations are too unsettled to make public.
- Leaders also sometimes choose to withhold information they think could stimulate employee fears or impede team performance. Please note: Organizational secrets are increasingly difficult to maintain in the current era of information technology and transparency. Executives must carefully decide what information to withhold. Weigh the risks of losing your team’s trust of your leadership.
- This following example may be the most isolating factor. Many leaders believe they can never admit to team members that they are human and have the same insecurities as the rest of us. Executives often forget how we bond with other people, including by acknowledging our flaws and fears. The leader who thinks they’ll maintain the confidence and trust of their team and inspire them to greatness if they never share their insecurities is striving to maintain an illusion of perfection the executive thinks their team members hold about them. In truth, team members usually respond with more approval, commitment and passion for their jobs when they hear an authority figure who is facing a tough decision make a statement like, “I’m not 100% sure this will work, but we owe it to ourselves to try.” This type of honesty and vulnerability is almost always a more effective team builder than voicing a message that attempts to cover up the executive’s fears and insecurities.
Can Team Members Be Your Friends?
Exemplary leaders consistently develop and nurture excellent relationships at all levels of the organization. They’re also aware of the dangers of acting like one of the gang or perceiving themselves as a peer. They are keenly aware of the sandwich described above. Executives are accountable to both management and their team and must ethically represent both perspectives. Your ideal focus includes empowering your team members to do their best work and being fair and impartial, even if you were friends with a team member before you were promoted to a leadership position.
Is this difficult? Absolutely! You’ll naturally like and appreciate some people more than others. The actions of some people will affect you like listening to fingers scraping a chalkboard. This makes it essential that you remain unbiased when you train and evaluate people. Set the intention to be of the highest integrity in your leadership position and learn as much as possible.
Also remember that the people who frustrate us the most usually turn out to be our best teachers. As a coach, I’ve seen many leaders and employees who originally disliked each other become valued colleagues (sometimes friends) over time after both people decided to make the most of a difficult situation.
Can You Maintain a Friendship When You’re Promoted and Your Friend is Not?
Circumstances can be tricky when you’re promoted and your friend is left behind. A true friend will be happy for you even though they’re disappointed they didn’t gain the position. Genuine friendships can last years longer than most leadership positions. Have an open discussion with your friend about what must change. Below are some examples of what to include.
- Although you’re still fully committed to your friendship, you now also have a commitment to equally and fairly follow organizational policies.
- You won’t be able to discuss sensitive information your boss shares with you.
- You expect your friend not to ask you to betray the trust of upper management by requesting you to share confidential information.
- You’re now in the middle of an organizational sandwich. You won’t be able to grant special allowances for your friend or condone behaviors that would place you in jeopardy for having double standards or disregarding your responsibilities to management.
- You’ll continue to demonstrate how you value your friendship. You’ll also welcome their honest feedback and strive to continue to earn their trust and respect in both roles (leader and friend).
A Proven Way to Prevent Isolation and Improve Your Performance
You’ll be quite lonely as a leader if you don’t carefully cultivate healthy professional and personal connections, plus a systematic way to receive honest feedback guaranteed to lead to self-reflection and improvement.
Share your concerns and fears with a professional coach. Choose an objective, non-judgmental coach whom you trust to fully support your professional and personal development. Select a coach with experience related to your professional goals, as well as accomplishments you admire. The bottom line is that Women’s Leadership Coaching and Skills Training is not only essential to your success, you’ll take advantage of a proven track record.
The Proven Value of Women’s Leadership Coaching and How to Apply for Executive Coaching
Although this article focused on leadership isolation and friendship issues, many female executives sign up for Women’s Leadership Success Coaching because of team-building challenges, difficulty leading anxious employees or stressed workers, gender barriers to success, conflict at work, toxic work environments and executive confidence issues that can cause self-sabotage.
Every leader needs an unbiased sounding board, a non-judgmental person you can share your fears, insecurities, doubts, and concerns with. Every executive needs to have a trusted person they are 100% sure will listen carefully and offer supportive feedback so you can succeed at a higher level.
The ROI (return on investment) of Women’s Leadership Coaching is over 500%. I help women business owners and leaders in all types of industries, partnerships and nonprofits prevent and resolve leadership challenges, including those specific to women in male-dominated industries.
Click here to complete a short application so you can receive a complimentary 20-minute consultation. If we decide we’re a good fit as client and coach, we’ll discuss a coaching agreement. I’m looking forward to getting to know you and being of assistance.
© 2020 Doris Helge, Ph.D. as interviewed on “The Today Show,” CNN and NPR. Certified Master Leadership and Executive Coach Doris Helge is author of bestselling books, including “Joy on the Job,” Doris has helped hundreds of leaders like you meet every challenge you’re facing. Click here to view examples of solutions to women’s leadership dilemmas and sign up for your complimentary Leadership Coaching Consultation.
The majority of this article was previously published on Forbes.com