Is your Leadership Armor Keeping you Lonely?

One day, as I was talking to a leader, I asked, “What are the leadership topics you’d be interested in learning?”  With a concerned look in her eye, she said, “Can you address the loneliness?”  I felt my heart tug and I recognized myself in that question.  Quite frankly, there have been many points along the way in my leadership career that I felt lonely.

I walked away from that conversation wondering what else I could do to help.  At first I thought of all the ways to connect with other leaders: service clubs, leadership cohorts, mentors, colleagues in similar fields; the list goes on.

Then I asked myself, “Why is it that leaders feel lonely?”  There is some truth to the cliché “It’s lonely at the top.”  We must work to change that cliché and feel true connection to our staff, board, managers, investors, volunteers, etc.  Here are three questions to ponder to address the loneliness.

Are you truly lonely or is your leadership armor keeping you lonely?

Do you believe that you need to be a certain way as a leader and has that become your armor?  We often think that we cannot be vulnerable because we’ve seen so many leaders tough it out through difficult times.

Brené Brown has started a shift in thinking about vulnerability in leadership.  In her book, “Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts,” she addresses the myth that vulnerability is a weakness.  She tells the story of when she was speaking in front of several hundred military special-forces soldiers and was attempting to convince them this myth has no standing.  She said, “Vulnerability is the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Can you give me a single example of courage that you’ve witnessed in another soldier or experienced in your own life that did not require experiencing vulnerability?”  She goes on to write that there was, “Complete silence. Crickets.”

Being willing to share with your own struggles can immediately show your humanness.  Leaders are human, after all, and we all make mistakes.  The beauty is in the learning and growing.

Do you feel like you need to handle everything by yourself?

When we get stuck in that feeling of having to have our hand in everything, we also spread the message that nothing can be done without us and that we don’t trust our team to do their job.  How do you deal with delegation?  Do you delegate only to hover and demand frequent updates?  Or, is this a strength of yours and you feel like you are utilizing the talents of your team?

There is a term in succession planning called, “The Bench,” like on a basketball team.  Your bench contains people that know your job well enough so that when you need to step away, there is someone who can deliver.  It’s like parenting in many ways.  I worked from home when our daughters were really young and often, even when Dad was home, they would come to me with their boo-boos, or asking for help with something; not because Dad couldn’t help, but because it was a habit.  My husband used to say, “I’m right here, I can help.”  He wanted them to depend on him too.

It’s like that with your team.  Encouraging them to step-in, even if you are around, helps builds sustainability and trust within your organization.  And, it also builds the feeling that you are in it together, which, hopefully, addresses the loneliness.  So, ask yourself, how deep is your bench?

Do you trust your team enough to hear what they have to say about your leadership?

After a meeting, is there a follow-up “real” meeting in which your employees are hashing out what should have occurred in the meeting? When one of your staff asks for clarification or challenges an idea of yours, do you listen? I mean, really listen, or do you get defensive?

When your team feels that you will hear them, and not jump on their comments, you allow them to share things with you during the meeting, not after. Developing this style of trust can be difficult because it requires you to look in the face of your own shortfalls. However, if you are open and curious, if you ask them to clarify, and give examples, and then explain how you will change, (and then change!) this trust can grow quickly.

All in all, if you are feeling leader loneliness, ask yourself some of these questions and then ask your team how they feel. You might be surprised at their responses, but it’s always worth asking.

Lead Others, Without Losing Yourself

All parts of our lives are integrated. To improve one aspect, we must improve all – mind, body, spirit, heart.