Hi everyone, this is Tom Hallett from the Learn Grow Succeed Podcast.
This month is Stress Awareness Month, and with corporate stress high on the agenda for many employers, I thought today would be a good time to talk about how, as a leader, you can best manage executive isolation and the stress it often brings.
According to the Harvard Business Review, half of CEOs express feelings of loneliness, with 61 per cent believing loneliness hinders their job performance.
It can be lonely at the top…but it doesn’t have to be. In today’s podcast, we’ll look at the signs of executive isolation and what you can do to overcome them.
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So, let’s get into today’s podcast topic on executive isolation and how you can brave the wilderness that your executive position can often become.
As the joke goes, “It might be lonely at the top, but the view is terrific.”
But the truth is, I’ve had many senior leaders and MDs tell me that one of the main problems they face in their working lives is that they are in fact, very lonely at the top.
Working in isolation has its drawbacks – from having to make decisions on your own to not really being aware of what’s happening in your own company.
In this podcast, I’d like to ask you three questions to determine if you are working in isolation, and then we’ll look at some ways to overcome it.
So Firstly, Are You Shielded from Reality?
Do you know what’s going on with your team, or are you shielded from everyday workplace problems and events?
Isolation can compromise your decision making and effectiveness as a leader. If you don’t know what’s going on, how can you make thoughtful and incisive decisions?
If you are in a new leadership role, others may try to shield you from problems or concerns that arise to give you space and time to settle into the new position. Data concerning what’s going on with workplace, employees and even your clients can become filtered.
But this has the disadvantage of filtering workplace events – if you only receive part of the information about what’s happening– you can’t make valued judgements or agree on actions.
Second Question: Are you Distanced From Your Team?
Many employees hold their leaders in deference.
This may be demonstrated by holding back opinions so as not to be seen as contradicting your authority, and it’s one of the major causes of executive isolation.
It’s especially hard on those who have risen through the ranks to their new leadership position and now see themselves ostracised from the team they once worked with.
From not being invited to birthday parties to exclusion from leaving ‘dos’ – I have had some leaders tell me this has impacted on their enjoyment of, and ability to perform, in their new role. So, it can have serious effects on your leadership and career.
Additionally, the power that comes with a leadership role can sometimes lead to individuals not listening to their team – which has the knock-on effect of making employees less likely to voice their opinions. And if they don’t talk to you, you won’t know what’s going on.
And Thirdly: Are You Never Challenged On Your Ideas?
Are you leading a team of cheerleaders?
People who say yes to whatever you suggest and never push back on potentially bad decisions will only increase your executive isolation.
If you have answered yes to any (or all) of these questions, you’re in danger of experiencing executive isolation. It’s time to brave the wilderness and overcome your seclusion!
Let’s now look at five proven ways to alleviate that isolation and be a more effective leader.
1. Acknowledge Your Isolation.
We already know the move to a senior leadership role can be exhilarating. In the initial energy high and the excitement of the role, others may try to help by keeping problems away, but if this becomes the norm, you’re no longer getting the big picture.
To be effective as a leader, you need first-hand information. You know you’re feeling isolated: it’s time to get out of your office and talk to your employees, which leads me onto point two.
2. Take Action.
So, the second step after acknowledging isolation is to get out of your office and go and talk to your team.
You need unfiltered data. So, find out what’s going on for them, ask for their ideas and opinions, and harness their enthusiasm and expertise to garner the facts that will help you make better decisions.
3. Encourage Challenge.
Letting go of your ego and allowing your colleagues to challenge you, privately and in team meetings, is not always easy. But having the strength to permit that challenge – and to listen to others’ ideas and give them credence actively – will show you to be a great leader.
Have the courage to embrace disagreement and let go of your sense of being in charge.
Having peers who are not afraid to challenge you, are prepared to speak out and can serve as a critical soundboard, will enable you to lead in a more positive, engaged and collaborative way.
And this will alleviate isolation and lead to better decision-making, collaboration, teamwork – and ultimately, greater leadership capability.
4. Embrace Vulnerability.
No-one wants to challenge a leader who rules with an ‘iron fist’.
So, being prepared to admit when you are wrong – embracing your own vulnerability – will make you more open and approachable. And when that happens, your team are more likely to come to you if they have a problem, or if they have ideas and solutions.
Making yourself vulnerable means allowing others into your world. Sharing your thoughts and being prepared to take on others’ suggestions will help cultivate a sense of trust and respect that breaks down the barriers of loneliness.
This way, you will be the first to hear about potential situations or innovations. You can lead well, knowing you have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on, rather than sitting in splendid isolation without an understanding of daily operations.
5. Invest in Your Wellbeing.
Finally, although executive isolation is sometimes just part of the job – it’s important to remember that your wellbeing is paramount.
No-one works well in isolation, so consider connecting with another senior colleague, mentor or leaders in other networks with whom you can share ideas and concerns, let off steam if necessary and keep your sanity.
Having a supportive circle will provide a sense of belonging where you are free to discuss issues and feel safe in a like-minded community. These connections will also help alleviate stress and result in better mental health.
Remember, just because you have an executive leadership role, it doesn’t mean that you have to deal with isolation. Immerse yourself in your team, be present and available, approachable and human – and you will find that not only do your team appreciate your vulnerability, but they will also embrace your inclusive leadership style.
I hope I’ve provided you with some useful starting points to help you manage executive isolation and help you become a better leader.
Until next time!
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