We don’t talk about leadership isolation very often. We expect leaders to be strong, decisive, and resilient. But we don’t talk about the need they have for a community. 

Leadership Isolation - Leader staring down empty corridor

Leaders have the pressure of an entire company on their shoulders. And they carry that weight all by themselves, knowing that despite all the information and input they receive, the final decisions are theirs alone. This blog post will explore some of the factors contributing to loneliness among leaders and offer suggestions on how you can combat this feeling.

How Leadership Isolation Occurs

In the business world, leadership is often a lonely role. Leadership requires you to take risks and make decisions that have consequences for you and the people on your team. The pressures of balancing company demands and personal life often lead leaders to feel isolated and alone in the decisions they make for their team.

I will never forget when I first felt leadership isolation. My team was in a tug of war between two Fortune 500 companies. They were struggling and in crisis. 

And they looked to me for guidance on what to do and how to react. And I was struggling with everything they were, alone. 

My mentors were on either side and unable to help. I recall sitting at home alone on a Saturday, struggling under its weight. I had nowhere to turn. I was a leader in isolation.

I knew that whatever decision I made would have positive and negative consequences for my team and me. And of all the parties involved, my greatest loyalty and concern were for my team. And I knew that our greatest strength was in holding that team together. So that required me to put my anxiety aside and keep that team together. It was a strange feeling to be surrounded by people and still feel isolated.

Leadership is lonely because it all comes down to you. You will make the final decision on nearly every issue of importance. Whatever comes out of that decision, all eyes will turn to you.

Leadership’s Toll

A client once told me that one quality of solid leaders is that they can bear the pain of leadership better than most people. And, I think they’re right.

Leadership’s toll can include anxiety, exhaustion, and depression. This intensifies when the leader struggles to separate themselves from the emotion of their decisions, especially the difficult ones.

The toll can be physical as much as mental. Look no further than how US presidents look on inauguration day and how they look four to eight years later. They may be an extreme example, but leadership impacts you physically. The stress can manifest as exhaustion, ulcers, and high blood pressure.

And if leaders do not find ways to manage the toll better, they will become far less effective. They may disconnect emotionally, miss time due to illness, or see their emotions intensifying, resulting in inappropriate behavior.

Reduce Leadership Isolation

Leadership is all about maintaining a balance between being the leader that everyone follows while still retaining your sense of self. There are many ways to build up leadership skills without isolating yourself, but it’s crucial to maintain stress management and stay engaged with work and others. Whether you’re listening for feedback on an idea or taking time off for personal reflection, consider how best you can care for yourself too!

A system of support around you is a critical success factor. It can be leaders you meet with regularly. It reduces the loneliness and hearing others’ struggles and successes can put yours in a better perspective.

Another option is to hire an executive coach. This can help you in multiple ways. If you know the changes you need to reduce your isolation can help you be accountable. If you don’t see a path forward, a coach can work with you to develop that plan.

Leadership is lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. Whatever you choose to do, please commit to pulling yourself away from isolation and getting the perspective you need for a long and successful professional career and personal life.

I am putting together two leadership groups – an in-person group in Indianapolis and a Zoom-based group for leaders based elsewhere if you’d like to be part of a supportive community of leaders, set up an introductory call!

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