Prior to taking on a managerial and/or leadership role, I highly recommend asking yourself one question: How well do I handle loneliness?
Your answer should not decide whether or not you accept the position – there are plenty of other, more important things to consider. Your answer should, however, decide what support systems you will need if you choose to take on the role. If you’re reading this and are already in a leadership role, join us and ask the question.
Loneliness is frequent in leadership. It’s not constant and it doesn’t mean you will literally be in a room by yourself more times than not. But loneliness can exist while sitting in a boardroom full of people. Loneliness can exist during your birthday party. Loneliness can, and certainly will, make an appearance on your commute to work. Loneliness is a force, a tool of isolation, and above all, an underestimated symptom of leadership.
You’re no longer the one who gets to sit with your co-workers and trash the boss’ decisions. You’re the one who now makes, intercepts, over-rides, rationalizes, and presents the decisions, including the difficult ones. Very few people will understand what it’s like to make 452 decisions (big and small) on your own, in your own head and in a short period of time. This is how you miss birthday parties while you’re cutting the cake. This is how you miss your bus stop because you’re weighing the pros and cons. This is how your mind and body wind up in two places at once. Some decisions you can debate with a co-worker, friend, or family member, but for the most part, you’re on your own. Some decisions will take seconds, others minutes, hours, or weeks. Which is why, as a leader, it’s critical to be aware of and interrogate your ability to combat loneliness.
I recently stumbled across a motivational talk by Gary Vaynerchuck, entrepreneur, author, speaker and internet personality. Over a period of 5 minutes, Gary had me nodding hard in agreement, applauding his transparency, disagreeing with more than one statement, breaking out in laughter, and irrationally thinking, “Thanks, Gary. But we’re not all ’emotionally stable-as-&#@!’ like you are!”… It’s a great 5 minutes! Gary carries us through the emotional roller coaster of leadership, and I encourage you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the talk…
*Warning: Language used in this video may be offensive to some viewers*
The Untold Truth About Leadership – Gary Vaynerchuk | Motivational Talk
…Let’s revisit one of Gary’s thoughts:
“I know that I am emotionally stable-as-&#@! and it’s intense for me. I can’t imagine people that are not as fortunate as I am…” (3:55-4:06)
Gary recognizes that being in a leadership role AND being emotionally stable is a luxury – a rare luxury – and recognizing this will have a large impact on your career as a leader. It will define your approach to self-care, it will determine how quickly you can make decisions, and it will influence your ability to manage how lonely it can get “at the tippy-top.” I admire Gary’s emotional stability (even though my initial response would have you think otherwise), but my jealousy-ridden response simply reminded me of the fact that, like many others, I am a leader who will always have to work hard to combat loneliness. Plain and simple. I am also a leader who, in the past, made the mistake of waiting until I noticed signs of burnout and isolation (by choice) before asking myself, “how well do I handle loneliness?” Which is why I am encouraging you as a leader to ask the question sooner rather than later. And if necessary, more than once.
As leaders and managers we are consistently asked to be pro-active in the workplace. We are required to forecast the results of our decisions based on the known and the unknown. We prepare for failure but aim for success. We have (or should have) a contingency plan if someone is sick or walks away from a job. But do we prepare for our own loneliness?
Prior to taking on any managerial and/or leadership position, ask yourself one question: How well do I handle loneliness?
If your answer is anything but “I’m emotionally stable-as-&#@!,” create a support network. Create a list of people and organizations you can call at any time. Write down your interests, hobbies, and passions and post them somewhere where you can see them. Remind yourself that it’s OK to take time off, or, feed a squirrel and take a break from humans altogether. Chip is a surprisingly good listener.
Be pro-active and try to prepare for your own loneliness in the field of leadership. The job is yours and only yours, but don’t allow it to have your birthday cake and eat it too.