The Burden Of Leadership: Addressing Loneliness
Paula Vidal Castelli -Executive Director Europe for SFAI Global – A global authority on leadership and high-performance team management.
After many years working as a coach for international leaders, I can assure you that it is quite common for leaders to feel isolated and lonely, particularly when they are faced with complex personal or professional issues. This is a topic that is often overlooked, but it can have serious implications for the leader’s performance and, consequently, the overall success of the organization.
Why Do Leaders Feel Isolated?
The weight of knowing that their decisions can have far-reaching consequences can lead to a sense of isolation and loneliness. The leader may feel that they are alone in their decision-making process and that they have no one to turn to for guidance or support. This can be particularly true if the decision is a controversial one and the leader fears potential backlash or criticism from others.
The pressure of leadership can also take a toll on the leader’s personal life. It is really difficult to balance work demands with the needs of family and friends, leaving leaders feeling isolated from their loved ones.
I have heard many leaders say that when they are in a position of power, they feel increasingly distant from their longtime friends and former colleagues. The power dynamic can create a barrier that makes it challenging to build trusting relationships. The leader feels that they cannot confide in their colleagues about personal or professional issues.
Leaders often feel that they must project an image of strength and confidence, which can be at odds with their feelings of vulnerability and their need to seek support and advice from others.
How To Address Difficult Feelings
This sense of loneliness can have significant consequences on leaders’ mental health and well-being. Left unchecked, it can lead to burnout, depression and anxiety. It can also impact the leader’s decision-making ability, as they may become less confident in their choices due to a lack of support and guidance. Therefore, it is vital that leaders take proactive steps to address these feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Mid-level leaders can seek out the support of other leaders who have faced similar challenges. Peer mentoring can be an effective way to build a network of trusted colleagues who can provide guidance and support when needed. In fact, some companies have specific mentoring programs for this purpose. If your company doesn’t currently offer a mentoring program, consider suggesting one.
Leaders also need to acknowledge their vulnerability and learn to detect when they are beginning to lose control of their emotional landscape. If they recognize that specific moment, they will be able to take immediate action.
What kind of actions should they take? I recommend implementing practices that enhance their physical and mental performance to improve their self-control.
I must admit that many times when I suggest this approach to leaders I coach, they are hesitant to accept it and start giving excuses: They are unable to maintain concentration for meditation practices, or they don’t have time for physical activity, much less for maintaining a proper diet. The issue here is that they struggle to connect good habits (which are often mistakenly frowned upon) with the improvement of their performance.
It is essential for them to know that good physical and mental health are reflected in their everyday actions, in the way they relate to others, in their decision-making processes and in their ability to effectively manage the stress caused by their role and everyday life. Those who feel good physically and mentally are likely to feel better emotionally as well.
Another approach is to prioritize personal rewards. Leaders who engage in activities they enjoy and are passionate about outside of work can use them as a healthy way to deal with stress while also finding a sense of fulfillment and purpose in their lives.
Leadership is a demanding role that requires a significant amount of resilience, determination and emotional intelligence. However, it is essential to recognize that leaders are human and that they too feel lonely and isolated.
By taking proactive, healthy steps to address these feelings, leaders can not only improve their own well-being but also foster a more supportive and inclusive organizational culture for their teams.