C-level Executive’s loneliness at the top: 5 ways to handle it
Being a successful C-level executive and reaching the top of an organization is an attractive goal for many people in the corporate world as senior leadership positions are very powerful and glamourous.
From the outside, the CEO position, or any C-suite position, seems to be what every ambitious professional would dream of regarding his or her career story, whether it happens through climbing his or her way up from inside or by founding and building his or her own business. And the C-level executive is supposed to be a super-hero, who knows everything, is fearless and a role model for everyone else in the company.
But as the quote says, “It’s lonely at the top”. And loneliness is the price to pay for the rewards, recognition, and power that come being a C-level executive. It seems though that the price of loneliness is much more expensive that what is considered to be. According to a survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review, 50% of CEOs experience feelings of loneliness and 61% of them believe loneliness hinders their job performance. Either because they have few peers they can confide in them their struggles or thoughts, they need to keep a distance from their team members or they work long hours not leaving free time energy to do something they would enjoy or to socialize, the outcome is that they end up feeling isolated and not being able to satisfy their human fundamental “need to belong”, that they also have, as every other human being on the earth.
If what I wrote above seems familiar to you, because this is how you feel exactly being at a C-level position, then here’s some things you can do to take yourself out of this isolation and also help yourself serve your role even better, by increasing your performance:
- Acknowledge your right to feel human and vulnerable: Ok, you’re a C-level executive and you’re supposed to be Superman or the Bionic Woman, but under your super-hero suit, you’re human with feelings like everybody else.
- Get out of the bubble: Don’t be afraid to seek honest feedback from your team members or the lower-levels employees to stay in touch with the real world of your organization and how they experience your leadership. it’s a given that most of your people will not feel comfortable giving you their honest feedback and that’s why they will tend to tell you what you want to hear. So, you will need to create a climate of trust and safety for them to be open and share with you their honest opinion.
- Disconnect mentally and physically from work: Find time to disconnect from your professional duties and your workplace in order to distance yourself from your routine, see things objectively and make decisions and, of course, use this time to take care of yourself by exercising, resting and building healthy habits.
- Join a mastermind group: If you decide to get out of your fishbowl, you will realize that there are many people going through the same state as you do. Having a member of a mastermind group with whom you will meet on a regular basis and that is likely to be diverse in nature will give you the psychological safety to discuss, brainstorm and find solutions to problems or to get ideas of how that people handle the same challenges you also have.
- Partner with a coach: Sometimes what you need most is not seeking advice or feedback, but meeting the need we all have to confide in someone your thoughts and emotions and to share your challenges in order to help you see a fresh perspective and keep you from getting stuck. As a coach, I have had many clients, in C-level positions, who hired me because they felt isolated or trapped in their own thoughts or emotions and they found it really helpful to bounce ideas off me, as I was an unbiased professional, coming from an external environment and providing them in this way a view to the world through multiple lenses.
“With great power, comes great responsibility” is Peter Parker’s (AKA Spider-Man’s) principle. But being responsible for your organization and your people, don’t necessarily have to mean being lonely!