Some years ago, I met this particular client for the first time, as I usually do, I asked; "So what do you want from coaching?" She replied, "It's lonely at the top." Initially, I was surprised at her phrase "It's lonely at the top" because she was the CEO of a complex business employing several thousand people. So of course, the thought went through my head "How is it she is lonely?" She went on to say "I want someone who'll listen to me as I explore various ideas and vision for the business. I don't need you to advise me or tell me this is a great idea or that is a dumb idea. I need a sounding board and someone who'll ask me questions to challenge my thinking and create a broader perspective. Is that something you do?"
It transpired she was the only woman on the Board of Directors and the lone woman in the C-Suite and felt she was exposed and didn't have anyone neutral to whom she could talk and explore her thoughts, vision and strategy. We had stimulating coaching relationship for several years, which was fascinating for me, and she had her sounding board. Over the course of our coaching relationship, she developed a valuable connection with her team, the board's respect and appreciation and ploughed her successful furrow.
I don't know where the phrase "Lonely at the Top" originated. I believe it came from the 1972 song by Randy Newman. However, it was probably coined earlier than that. No matter, whoever coined the phrase, there is no doubt what it means. When you are in a leadership position, you won't and can't have the friends you used to have.
However, my client above is just one example, and you don't need to be at the tippy top or a woman to experience a sense of isolation. People in leadership positions managers, supervisors even if you are leading a team of two, also experience it. When you move position, up, sideways or even down, temporary or not, relationships change, even if you feel they shouldn't. Just as when you retire and think your work friendships will stay the same, they don't, because you have left the world of your colleagues and moved to a different planet.
Managers and leaders have to make decisions, and their people won't always be happy. For instance, suppose your manager tells your team they have to work for the coming weekend due to an unforeseen event or in the current uncertain climate they need to take a 20% pay cut. How popular will either of those decisions be for the team? Of course, it depends on each individual because each person responds in their way, taking into account their commitments and expectations?
It's probable; not everyone will enjoy or be satisfied with the decisions you must make. Hopefully, they will respect them. Of course, that depends on how you present those decisions. If you are not firm, transparent and decisive, people may read this as being weak, or they'll feel confused, don't know what to do, and will not perform. Once that occurs, you will have a difficult time recovering from that perception. So be firm and don't waiver. Recognise, making a decision is vital; nothing is worse than no decision.
Ideally, when you are in a leadership position, your mindset is one of knowing yourself, you are performing well or not. With this mindset, feedback is just feedback, and you decide whether or not to take it on board depending on your criteria. If feedback is something you rely on to know how you are performing and be motivated, you may find senior leadership positions challenging.
Some leaders make rash decisions. Not recognising what precise information is needed, thus creating poor results. The reports affected by these decisions may get irritated, and you could lose credibility as a leader. Once that happens, you need to start clearly communicating more than you think you need to, so you begin regaining their trust.
One of the challenges is; there's always more information which is how you could start procrastinating. So you have to know where and when to draw a line in the sand and decide.
You are going to make mistakes; after all, you are merely human. When you believe you have all the necessary information, new facts may emerge to throw the original concept out of whack. There isn't much you can do about it, except accepting the landscape has changed, make alternative decisions, communicate and take action. Your confidence will be critical for your credibility when this occurs. However, when you exude confidence, your team will give you the respect you deserve and appreciate the pivot.
When you accept a leadership role, relish the responsibility that goes along with it. Appreciate people aren't going to like every choice you make and not every decision will be 'right'. Nonetheless, you are the one who is in charge of decision making. Make them with informed, well-founded confidence even if it is lonely at the top.
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I'm not sure that quote is one hundred percent accurate because I suspect, if you are reading this blog, change is something you are open to or curious about. Whether the amount of change, upheaval and uncertainty all-around at the moment is challenging or not, is - as they say - another kettle of fish.
Most people are not fond of change, but, whether you like it or not, it happens all the time. The seasons come and go, day changes into night and then back again, you get older with each passing year, along with emerging wrinkles and grey hair - or maybe I'm only talking about myself! Thank heavens for hair colouring.
Of course, there are other life changes, job, promotion, redundancy, start a business, buy a house, move house, a death in the family, a new baby. Change is constant, and yet it is frequently challenging, and uncomfortable, and we try to resist it even though this is futile.
Here are some suggestions on ways to deal with life transitions. I'm not saying they will make the change easy but maybe one or two will resonate, cause you to pause and tweak your perspective.
When the changes that happen are totally outside your control, there is absolutely nothing you can do. Therefore, it's best to accept them and stop resisting. Now, this is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. But, when you learn to let go of the desire to be in control of something that you can't control, you may find it much more comfortable when those changes do occur. Of course, some changes are going to be less challenging than others, be grateful when you notice this is the case.
Don't Live with Regrets
You can't change the past, at least not yet. Until someone discovers a way to do that, don't worry about what you've done in the past. Besides, if you let that get you down, you risk alienating others because you'll always be in a foul mood. Don't live with regrets. It's a colossal waste of energy.
Remember you have more knowledge and experience now than you did in the past, cut that younger you some slack. If that younger you was someone you really cared for and loved what advice might you offer to support them and help move past the old regret.
Remember You Are Not Alone
No matter what stage of life you are in, many people have been there before or are here right alongside you. Seek out these people and talk to them, learn from them and their experience. This doesn't mean you'll do the same as they did, but it could prompt you to think of alternatives for you. Furthermore, you'll meet new friends or deepen friendships in the process, and you'll discover that the world is not as lonely as you might have thought.
Have Some Alone Time
I know this sounds a bit contradictory after the previous paragraph. So I'm not suggesting you go it alone, however, having some time for yourself is a good thing. This is the time you take to clear your head or think things through without the input of others, no matter how well-meaning. Whatever you want to do, it is up to you to decide.
Enjoy Life No Matter What
Everyone deals with tragedy at some point in their lives. You will grieve the loss of loved ones, and you may have adverse situations that you'll have to deal with. As much as possible, choose to enjoy your life no matter what type of position you find yourself in. If you believe you only get one life, you want to live this life to its fullest.
Understand Your Purpose
You are here on this earth for a reason. You do things differently to everyone else. Even if you think you do some things the same others, you are unique and so you have your angle or spin because you are you. If you are stuck on something that doesn't fit for you, you'll probably feel discontented. Determine what it si you are meant to do and just do it.
Get Help When You Feel Overwhelmed
There are going to be situations where life - your life - seems unbearable and tough to deal with. If you ever get to that point, and you don't need to wait until it is too complicated, do look for help and support. You can start with friends and family. Consider this, sometimes friends and family have a vested interest in the status quo, so for challenging situations, consider professional help.
P.S. If you found this useful be sure and share it with you friends, family and colleagues
When you feel angry or frustrated at work, home or even socially being able to manage your emotion in a way that allows you to communicate effectively and create the outcome you desire is a useful skill. Have a look at the video for a few tips.
If you find yourself getting distracted and losing focus it is probably happening without you knowing how it is happening. If you don't know the process, it is challenging to do anything about it. Discover how you do it.
If you find yourself getting distracted and losing focus take the time to write down what you are thinking that takes you away from the moment (the now). The process of doing this helps you step outside yourself and observe what is really going on. It may be a worry, stress, fear or the situation.
Whatever is disrupting your thoughts or actions needs to be written down because when you write it down, it requires that you label it, by labelling it you make it more specific which can reduce the distracting thoughts power to return again and again. You can then work out how to deal with them so that those thoughts no longer affect you.
Three suggestions for you to experiment with:
Now you may be thinking to yourself that this process just magnifies the problem, but if you do nothing, nothing will shift and you will continue as before. So go on, give it a go.
NLP - Neuro Linguistic Programming - is a set of tools developed as a result of analysing people who achieve results. The great thing is the tools have been taken apart and structured as bite sized pieces in a logical sequence which means if you follow the steps anyone can up their performance. Curious to know more? Have a look at this short video...
Let me know your thoughts and what part of it makes most sense to you. If you've any questions ask in the comments and I'll be delighted to answer them.
Julie Silfverberg has worked in the field of personal and professional development for more than 20 years. She works with a diverse and exciting group of people. Each with their own unique talents and potential.