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Top 7 Ways to Combat Being Lonely at The Top

By Kevin Kearns

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"It's lonely at the top" is as cliche as you can get - but like most popular cliches, there is often a lot of truth in the statement. People do not become leaders because they are wanting to have more dark days of isolation. Leadership is a package-deal and those days are a part of the package. Leadership is just like a puppy. If you love puppies, you deal with the "messes" puppies make. The cute little puppy overshadows the known potential of daily messes. If you don't love puppies, you probably don't think the messes are worth it. Feeling unappreciated and alone are just a couple of messes that come with leadership. If you enjoy being a leader, putting up with such messes is worth it. The seven tips below are sure to help you clean up some of the mess that comes with leadership.

  1. Lonely Leaders Anonymous: Accept that most leaders face this challenge. You are in good company, great leaders of history have faced the same isolation you face. Leaders are the ones that make decisions, set direction, and motivate others to make it all happen. These responsibilities make your reality a whole lot different than the reality your team faces. They do not know the pressure that comes with being in charge and they shouldn't. You take the burden and allow them to concentrate on performing their duties. Do they understand how much you do? Nope. Do they care? Probably not. Great leaders do it anyway.

  2. Good Times: Keep a history of your greatest moments. Dark days will come. You cannot stop them, but you can prepare yourself to weather them. Remember your accomplishments. If it helps, keep things in your work area to remind you of some of your proudest moments. When you are feeling a bit distraught, take some time to think how great those successes were. Consider what you did to accomplish those achievements, and how good it felt when you reached your goal. Then, shake off the funk and commit to making good times happen again.

  3. Keep Moving: Be too busy to be lonely! Feeling lonely is actually a luxury. It means you have the time to stop and ponder how you are feeling. When you are super-busy, you often don't have time to feel lonely. For some leaders, being busy can be the perfect prescription for curing loneliness. So, when you feel loneliness starting to creep into your head, get busy! Plan out some goals and take action!

  4. Leave the Tower: Get out of your office and interact with your team. It can be easy to justify staying in your office to complete all of your important tasks. After all, you have timelines to meet and goals to accomplish. A negative side effect from all that focus and drive can be a sudden feeling of doubt. Does anyone really care about all of my efforts? Does my team even miss a beat by not seeing me? Before the doubt settles in like a fog, get out of your office and interact with your team. Be interested in what they are doing. Thank them for being a part of your team. Make a connection. It can take as little as a few minutes, but the benefit can be a clarity that keeps you focused on what is important to you and your team. Reflecting on doubts is probably not on that list.

  5. It's Only Work: Have a life outside of work. Co-workers can be fickle. They can hold onto grudges, spread rumors, be selfish, mean, and a whole bunch of unpleasant things. And those are the people that like you! If your mental stability depends on people at work supporting you or a big project going perfect, you are taking a big risk. Although work is a large part of your life, it is not your life. Make sure you have a solid foundation outside of your work. Stay in touch with family and friends. Be active in your local church or civic group. Have people that know you, not just the work-you, but the real you. A fulfilling life can help you survive even the worst job.

  6. Right is Right: Doing the right thing is worth it, no matter what the cost. I am a father of three wonderful kids. In many ways, I am their leader. Most of the time it is the greatest job ever. On occasion, it can be very challenging. Just prior to her fourth birthday, my oldest daughter, Maren, went through a phase of uninviting me to her birthday party. When I would ask her to clean up her toys, she would become upset and say "you're not invited to my birthday party Daddy!" I have to admit, the first time I heard that, it broke my heart. However, as her father, my job is to help her grow up to be a responsible adult. I have to keep in mind that the end result is more important than her immediate understanding and acceptance. The same holds true for you as a leader. The possibility of being isolated or even disliked (ouch) is well worth the long-term result of helping your team reach its goal. Remember that!

  7. Lean on Me: Talk to a coach or mentor. Okay, I admit it. I am a little partial to this one. However, the benefits speak for themselves, especially in this area. Showing weakness to your employees can cause them to doubt your ability, or fear the same things you fear. Although it may offer short-term comfort to you, the long-term risks are not worth the benefit. Discussing your fears or concerns with your supervisor (most leaders have a boss), can cause him or her to doubt you, question your future decisions, or even terminate you. Those are some serious negative consequences. Having a coach or mentor that you can speak openly with will help you avoid potential issues. All leaders face moments when they are unsure or battle with fear. A trusted advisor that is not involved with your job can help you deal with tough challenges without the possibility of condemnation or judgment.

Kevin Kearns is President of Kearns Advantage, a leadership coaching company. He is the author of the book: 49 Ways to Deal With People at Work. Kevin holds a Master of Science degree in Organization Development and is a member of the Coachville Graduate School of Coaching. Subscribe to Kevinís free leadership newsletter at


Article Submitted On: November 23, 2005