Why CEOs should learn to embrace the feeling of “loneliness”

Why CEOs should learn to embrace the feeling of “loneliness”

It’s lonely at the top. Everyone says it because it can be very true.

You’re in a position of power, with everyone below you looking to you for guidance and direction. It is understandable that, according to a survey by RHR International, half of all CEOs report feeling lonely in their roles. In this group, 61% believe isolation hinders their performance. With over half of CEOs believing that isolation leads to lower performance, it makes you wonder why more CEOs don’t reach out for support.

In November 2017, two prominent CEOS in Alberta took their lives due to the pressures of overwhelming levels of stress that caused them to feel hopeless and powerless in their future.

As a CEO, it is a given that you will feel alone and at times be alone; this is the nature of being at the top of the heap. You are constantly stepping into the unknown and taking others into the unknown while playing a big game. You are guiding the vision, ensuring workability, and managing the high-stakes emotions that come with the stress of uncertainty and the what-ifs of big impactful decisions.

Your isolation begs the need for structures and practices to be developed and built into your world – the C-Suite world. Structures and practices provide a support system the C-Suite can depend on and trust when there is no one else who can relate or understand.

Creating a space and network for unfiltered, unbiased, and very real conversation is vital in the C-Suite.

Being perceived as weak, incompetent, or lacking in confidence for the future are all reasons why many C-Suite leaders keep concerns, issues, and problems to themselves. Bottling this all up internally creates a breeding ground for the development of unhealthy and sometimes detrimental coping mechanisms such as drinking, drugs, extramarital affairs, and unethical behavior, all triggered from the feeling of being alone with no one to turn to when things get tough.

Having external advisors is important for a sounding board to get real, unbiased feedback outside of the CEO bubble of appeasement.  External advisors provide a space where you can say, “I’m scared”, “I feel alone”, “I don’t know what to do”, without the risk of the perception of looking like a failure or being incompetent.

Structures such as a Psychologist, leadership or business coach, advisors (external to the company and preferably another industry), exercise routines, and mental practices for internal clarity are all healthy coping mechanisms for the stress inherent to the C-Suite.

Without structures in place, it is easy to fall into unhealthy coping mechanisms that have undesirable consequences.

Healthy Support Structures:

  • Leadership/business coach
  • Psychologist
  • Mental practices (meditation, visualization)
  • Exercise routine
  • Self-reflection
  • 3rd party advisors (fellow colleagues who understand your role and who provide a safe place to be vulnerable and open. No judgment and confidentiality).

As a CEO you are playing a big game and committed to taking your team into the unknown where uncertainty is everywhere. It is important to be clear about your vision (where you are taking your team), understand and know how to manage your emotions (ability to manage and handle stress and uncertainty in a healthy way), maintain daily practices (to keep you grounded), and create support structures to ensure workability (people, processes, practices, tools) for a successful future.


Some resources:

How to Deal With Loneliness

How to Fight Isolation

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