At times, leadership can be a tremendously lonely experience.
The emotional fallout of making difficult decisions that negatively affect the lives of some team members, the feeling of rejection when team members leave for other opportunities, and the discomfort of disappointing passionate team members who offer ideas that can’t be executed in the moment, among many other leadership acts, all take their toll.
There’s no one within the organization to complain to, commiserate with, or offload the heavy burden of emotions connected to leadership. This makes for some tough sledding anytime a leader temporarily loses their footing and confidence or faces an extreme test. The more senior the leadership role and the more consequential and far-reaching the decisions, the lonelier sitting atop the team becomes.
Keeping the negative feelings and frustrations bottled up inside is a recipe for stress, unhappiness, and burnout. Without the ability to vent and seek catharsis, leaders can turn inward and engage in self-loathing or become indifferent.
That’s why good leaders look outside the organization for relief.
Leaders need an outlet to explore their feelings and to validate the worth of their choices. Trusting and willing family members, friends, mentors, executive coaches, and therapists are worth their weight in gold when they are open to patiently listen to a leader explain what is going on with them.
Those who help leaders with the fragility of frustration by acting as a sounding board and a willing ear play a pivotal role in making those leaders successful.
Finding an outlet shouldn’t happen by chance. Asking those you trust to play this role on occasion is essential before the need arises. Letting others know the role you would like them to play gives them a choice and a heads up. Spouses and partners especially appreciate this!
Learning to swallow your pride and leaning on those who are ready to lend a hand makes the loneliness of leadership more bearable. Leaders often act alone but always walk with those outside the organization who care most about them.
Gwendolyn Brooks's great poem "The Preacher Ruminates Behind the Sermon" gets at this:
I think it must be lonely to be God.
Nobody loves a master. No. Despite
The bright hosannas, bright dear-Lords, and bright
Determined reverence of Sunday eyes.
Picture Jehovah striding through the hall
Of His importance, creatures running out
From servant-corners to acclaim, to shout
Appreciation of His merit's glare.
But who walks with Him?—dares to take His arm,
To clap Him on the shoulder, tweak His ear,
Buy Him a Coca-Cola or a beer,
Pooh-pooh His politics, call Him a fool?
Perhaps—who knows?—He tires of looking down.
Those eyes are never lifted. Never straight.
Perhaps sometimes He tires of being great
In solitude. Without a hand to hold.
Serving as a school principal I feel this from students, parents, teachers and community members. I have to come back to my ‘why’ and that is for the betterment of others. Great reminder today!