Conquering Loneliness at the Top
Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the title is often viewed as the pinnacle of business success. With their power, influence, authority and big paychecks, CEO positions can offer the highest level of stature in the business community.
Is the position of CEO all that it is cracked up to be?
For me, becoming a CEO has been much lonelier than I ever imagined. As business leaders we spend a lot of time ensuring our teams are happy, productive and healthy but what about the leader?
Who takes care of the CEO?
Who is focused on our engagement? According to numerous studies, half of CEOs reported feelings of loneliness in their roles, and the majority of these CEOs believe these feelings have an impact on their performance.
Although it may be tough to sympathize with a CEO who is experiencing loneliness the simple fact is CEO loneliness and isolation is bad for business and all the people working in the organization.
A CEO working in isolation cannot be effective long term and it is demoralizing to their teams. Good decision making comes from multiple perspectives and data points, in isolation it is virtually impossible to have this.
CEO's are more visible in this digital world.
The challenge is especially paradoxical in the digital world where CEOs are more visible than ever, yet have fewer personal interactions. They are suddenly more noticeable and obvious in the organization, the community and often in the media. Many leaders have thousands of social media followers but don’t know who their real friends are. They worry personal interactions have far less to do with genuine friendship and trust than career ambition.
Many newly promoted CEOs learn “You become a title not a person,” overnight, relationships change and the information you receive becomes filtered. People want to meet with the CEO, not you as a person.
It’s also a natural phenomenon for employees, even senior executives in the company to hold back opinions and information that they fear might harm their career or your perception of them.
The CEO must now appear confident and unwavering, even invincible, hence very few are comfortable in showing any vulnerability. Ironically many leaders, especially women, will admit privately to suffering from imposter syndrome and fear that they will be discovered to be incompetent.
Very early in my role as CEO I was given great advice: keep learning, prioritize time with other CEOs, put together a group of advisors, collaborate, and make time for business interactions outside the office.
Who will I talk to and confide in?
Many leaders admit one of the biggest challenges they face is not having someone to talk to about their business, especially their toughest issues. Leaders know they are ultimately responsible for the well-being of the organization and it’s people. If they fail, many people will be out of work. They bear the mental and emotional weight of guiding their companies to success, protecting their employees and their families.
In order to be viewed as a leader many CEOs believe they must appear bulletproof much of the time, this is not healthy or sustainable long term. They also need to find an environment where they can be vulnerable and learn and grow in a safe trusting environment. A place where information is unfiltered, advice and best practices are free flowing and people aren’t afraid to give you tough love when you need it.
As the old saying goes “A wise person learns from experience and a wiser person learns from other people’s experience.” Just like everyone else, CEOs need a safe space to say what keeps them up at night.
We all need mentors, advisors, critics and a place to continue our ongoing learning and development. For me, I found the solution through Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). YPO is the global platform for chief executives to engage, learn and grow with almost 25,000 CEOs across the globe in 140 countries.
This spring almost 3000 of these CEOs from across the globe descended on Vancouver British Columbia for the annual Young Presidents Organization annual conference. This is not just another conference with a few great speakers. Instead this conference is an opportunity to bring together some of the world’s pre-eminent thought leaders, philanthropists and entrepreneurs.
This group often looks more like a party of great friends getting together, rather than a room of people whose organizations collective corporate revenue is high. In fact, so high the earning in the room are greater than most countries’ GDP (YPO companies generate over USD6 trillion in annual revenues).
The magic behind the conference is the opportunity for leaders across the globe to share best practices from across the globe in a trusted environment. There was a lot of learning about the latest technology, digitization, geopolitics, philanthropy, the shared economy and sunsetting of the hydro carbon era.
Most important though, was the opportunity for CEOs to look outside the office and see what is happening around the globe and get together in trusted peer forums to discuss issues and challenges.
Executive loneliness doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of the CEO’s job. In fact, in today’s hyper competitive world you can’t afford to risk isolation. Loneliness and isolation compromises your ability to make good decisions and to lead your organization forward.
Find a group of trusted advisors, fellow CEOs and people who will provide you with a safe haven of trust to tackle your biggest business challenges.