It’s Lonely at the Top (But It Doesn’t Have to Be)
We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s lonely at the top.”
CEOs face immense pressure not only to lead the company, but also to serve as an always-on public figure. The CEO’s strategy accounts for 45% of a company’s performance, but only three in five CEOs live up to expectations in the first 18 months, according to McKinsey. No pressure, right?
No wonder so many executives feel alone, the weight of the company on their shoulders. Half of CEOs report feelings of loneliness, and 61% say it hinders their performance, according to Harvard Business Review. Working remotely or constantly traveling between offices can make this even more challenging. It’s a straight shot to burnout from there.
Here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be lonely at the top if you don’t want it to be. If you’ve said to yourself recently, “No one at work understands me,” or “If only they knew…” then here’s what to do about it:
Let yourself lead
A little tough love for you, in this moment: Get over yourself.
So many CEOs refuse to let vulnerability or “weakness” show. But that’s exactly what keeps you lonely, isolated, and frankly, out of touch with what’s going on in your own company. Leadership means setting a BIG vision — but also modeling the confidence and skills you want your whole team to feel. You’re human too, and that’s something your team needs to know.
If you’re feeling lonely, isolated, or stressed…your team is going to pick up on it, whether you tell them or not. Real leaders acknowledge their weaknesses and let themselves take breaks. Your team will respect you all the more for it.
Build a great team
If you’re feeling lonely, you might not be leaning on your team enough.
Do your job, not anyone else’s. If you’ve made it to the C-suite by being a “doer,” it can be hard to let go of the reins. But you can’t do it all — and trying to do so won’t just lead to burnout for you. This mindset keeps your company from growing, too.
Effective CEOs focus on five things (and only five things): Vision, Cash, Getting the Right People in the Right Jobs, Key Relationships, and Learning.
Delegate the rest.
It’s not your job to help the sales team make up lost ground after a bad month (that’s sales). It’s not your job to crunch the numbers on an acquisition potential (that’s your CFO). It’s not your job to come up with the newest tagline (that’s marketing). And it’s not your job to find the perfect field of candidates for a role (that’s HR).
It will feel a lot less lonely if you remember why you hired your team in the first place. They’re your support system, so use them.
When was the last time you met with someone outside the immediate executive team, or your assistant? The best way to create culture is to participate in it. Not the untouchable, polished all-hands or formal meet-and-greets — taking a day to sit at a shared desk space out on the office floor, sitting at lunch in the cafeteria, or joining in to informal or hobby-based Slack threads.
If you’re feeling lonely, perhaps it’s because your extended team doesn’t find you approachable. You don’t have to stay upstairs in the executive suite, or alone in your home office. You don’t have to make it about business, either. Host virtual or in-person “coffee” hangouts with individual teams. Schedule skip-level “get-to-know-you” 1:1s with managers or VPs. Or join your company’s intramural volleyball team. Get out there and talk with your team as people, and connect with them.
Find a network of mentors and CEOs
While it’s important to connect with your larger team, it is true: No one will quite understand what you’re going through.
That’s why it’s important to lean on mentors or other CEOs. Talking through your challenges and successes can make you feel less alone. No one understands the pressure you’re under better than another CEO.
If you’re not part of a networking group, start small. Take a lunch meeting or grab coffee with another CEO, or sign up for a conference or networking event. Reach out to your network — if you don’t know other executives, talk with VCs or board members who can introduce you.
Get a coach
The other person you can talk to that knows what you’re going through? An executive coach. Coaches can act as sounding boards to talk through ideas, problems, and concerns to get to a solution. They can help you navigate tough challenges and find clarity as your company grows. But they can also make you feel less alone because, more often than not, they’ve gone through the exact same thing before.
Forget about the idea that “it’s lonely at the top.” Make connections with the people around you — starting with one of our executive coaches.