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4 Ways to Stop Feeling Lonely at the Top

“Solitude vivifies; isolation kills.” 
– Joseph Roux

Does it sometimes feel like you are standing all alone at the summit of your organisation?

If you’re feeling lonely at the top, ironically you are not alone.

In a recent survey conducted by Stanford University*, almost all (over 90%) CEOs find the process of receiving coaching and leadership advice highly effective and rewarding.

BUT, almost two-thirds of CEOs do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches.

And almost half of senior executives are not receiving any either.

Although having some form of objective sounding board can be beneficial for any leader or senior executive, it is especially valuable for Chief Executive Officers.

Why?

CEOs don’t have the same access to peer support as the rest of the management team.

Sandwiched between the board and the executive team, there is no one on your peer level within the organisation.

And at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. The CEO has ultimate responsibility for everything that goes on. You are accountable – for the pain as well as the glory.  And although there is normally a substantial salary packet, let’s face it, the pressure’s usually substantial as well.

This sense of isolation is one of the most obvious themes emerging from a study – Stepping Up To CEO – published by the School for CEOs.

So if you’re a CEO, here are 4 remedies to combat feeling lonely at the top:

1. Get an executive coach. They are (or should be) professionally trained.  Their focus is to stimulate your own self-discovery.  And its confidential.

Tip: Ask if they coach other CEOs to substantiate their credibility and knowledge of the unique challenges and pressures you face.

2. Develop a peer mentoring/coaching group with a few other non-competing CEOs. If three or four of you get together on a regular basis to share challenges and learnings, and most importantly, to listen to each other, this can go some way to mitigate that isolation.

Also, different industries can offer creative and unique perspectives to your own industry problems. In fact, networking with CEOs from other industries provides the perfect opportunity for “laddering up”** in problem solving.

3. Consider a mentor. Its unlikely you’ll be able to get a formal mentoring relationship with someone on your Board (although many informal mentoring relationships can develop between Chair and CEO), but there’s no reason why you can’t find a mentor in the form of a Chair of the Board or Board Member of another company.  They can often help you navigate those tricky nuances associated with Board relationships and expectations.  I’d say some form of mentor is a must for first time CEOs.

4. Stay connected to your professional networks – like those you developed through your MBA, professional bodies etc.  At times, it may seem like you don’t have time for non-essential networking, but if you meet people who you ‘connect with’ from previous jobs, studies or professional memberships, you can offer each other that objective sounding board.

Like anything, you always have a choice.  There are always options, so if you’re feeling that shadow of loneliness that sometimes accompanies being a CEO, help yourself.

Do you have any tips to add to this list? What techniques do you use to combat feeling lonely at the top?

*Conducted by the Center for Leadership Development and Research at Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance, and The Miles Group.

**Read Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath to get a better idea of the concept of “laddering up”

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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