My previous post listed and discussed why it is important to understand the causes for executive loneliness. In this post, I will seek to throw light on a few concrete measures to address executive loneliness. These measures to counter executive loneliness have been tried and tested both by my peers and by myself. While not all of the concepts will work for every single executive who reads this post, I hope that at least a couple of these measures serve to minimize those moments of loneliness that inevitably haunt executives.
Your Support System
Oftentimes family and friends are referred to as safety nets, but if you were to ask me, safety nets are for falling back on only during crises. It is critical for executives and entrepreneurs to be absolutely deliberate about carving out quality time for their support systems on a daily basis. It is all too easy to get caught up with professional commitments and the grind of building or managing a company. Cherish your family, friends, and community, and nurture these relationships. In my humble opinion, this support is system is the most powerful counter-measure for executive loneliness.
Organizations and Meetups Help
Just as your immediate support system can help mitigate executive loneliness, joining external organizations and meetups to interact with people in a similar boat helps, too. One of the organizations that I’m a part of is called YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization). During events organized by YPO, I can meet fellow executives, learn from them, and share experiences with them.
You may want to become a member of an organization that appeals to you, and it does not have to be strictly professional. You could join meetup group(s) to pursue your hobbies and interests, too.
As I stated in my earlier post, loneliness can creep in because as an executive in a company, you need to make tough decisions on your own. Through these decisions, you can potentially end up alienating both people within your organization and external stakeholders. While it is probably hard to keep everyone happy with the decisions you are making, sharing the context or rationale behind your decisions will greatly reduce the number of people you alienate.
When you offer context for some of the tough decisions you are making, your stakeholders can better understand your position.
You can be friends with the people who report to you and still effectively lead, but it isn’t as easy to effectively manage friends at work. At least this is something that has been a challenge for me and a few other leaders I’ve met through the years. While setting boundaries might seem counter-intuitive to addressing loneliness, it will help you be a better manager to your team and company. Sometimes, managing executive loneliness doesn’t just mean mitigating it but also learning when it is necessary.
Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not saying don’t be friends with your colleagues and staff. Just set healthy boundaries and expectations. This protects you, your pals at work, and also your business from biases. The better your staff understand the boundaries, the better they also understand how to effectively communicate and connect with you. This can in turn be effective in helping reducing your loneliness to a certain level.
It’s ok show vulnerability
Let’s be honest here – the image of tyrannical CXOs or founders still exists in the business world. People think of CXOs or founders as professionals who sit in their ivory towers and make decisions without fully understanding the repercussions the decisions have on the wider organization. This picture couldn’t be more wrong. Executives are regular people with normal lives, too. They have everyday battles to fight, need to manage their own fears, and must navigate tough challenges.
I urge executives to show their vulnerability, ask for counsel from peers and employees when required, and also actively solicit feedback. Doing so reduces executive loneliness while also engaging employees to be active participants in the decision-making process for your business.
Lonely yet not alone
Here’s putting things into perspective for all the professionals who are lonely on top. Look around you – you will notice that every employee of your company goes through moments of loneliness, regardless of their seniority. Understand that you are never really alone in your loneliness.
If you read this post and have some relevant thoughts to share, please share them in the comments section below. I and many other executives out there could use insights into managing executive loneliness.
Edwin has authored 9Lenses Insight to Action:A Social Approach to Business Optimization and Snapshot9 What’s Your Picture?:Accelerate Your Business Performance. Click here to download the first chapter of 9Lenses Insight to Action for free!