Are Leaders ‘Lonely’ ?

Some years ago, as a keynote speaker, I was sharing the platform with another speaker. As I recall I was presenting on Emotional Intelligence and Leadership and he was also presenting on Leadership but I don’t recall what his focus was.

What I do recall was one statement he made.

“Leadership is lonely.”

He said this on more than one occasion and each time seemed more forceful that the previous time. Maybe he was doing this to convince himself. He certainly didn’t convince me.

Lonely ? Really ? Certainly, we talk about CEO’s maybe being ‘lonely at the top’. The rationale for this is that the ‘buck’ stops here’. He or she has ultimate responsibility. That’s why coaches and mentors are particularly important at this level.

But leaders lonely ? One of my reactions was “Well, I don’t want to be lonely, so why would I be a leader ?”

This comment is so far off the mark. One of the Fundamentals of Leadership in The Leadership Challenge is that leadership is a relationship.

Without question, the best and most effective leaders have great relationships with the people they lead. Apart from anything else, how can you get the very best out of people if there isn’t a great relationship?

Trust which is so important when leading others can only come when there’s a relationship.

When we ask people who they learned from the most over the years, who made a personal difference in their lives, they consistently nominate people they had a relationship with and as a result with whom they had respect – teachers, uncles, coaches, ‘my previous manager’.

These are the fist examples of leaders they relate to – and the core is the relationship.

We identify this as is what we call it ‘heart’ these days. We might also refer to that person being ‘authentic’.

Of course, we know that different personality types find it easier to build relationships. Extraverts are usually good at this whereas introverts will take a little time and will want to get to know you before revealing much of themselves.

But regardless of personality types, the leader whose behaviors are consistently positive, who empowers the team and individuals, who challenges individuals to find another, better way to do the usual processes, who actively and regularly recognizes people for a job well done, will develop a relationship with those around him.

Leaders who interact positively with people outside their team, senior leaders who get out of their C suite office and talk – regularly – with all levels of the organization develop positive relationships.

Some years ago, when I had a senior position in the corporate world, the organization I was with worked closely on a particular project, with another large organization. When the project was nearing completion, one of the team with the other company approached me:

“Graham, thank you. I’ve been with this company for 20 years and no-one at your level has ever spoken to me.”

No relationship with ‘senior’ executives ? As surprising as I found this at the time, I know this still exists today and these executives struggle to be effective leaders.

As a leader, think of ways you can build relationships with those around you – at all levels – every day.

Leadership isn’t lonely.

Leadership is very much a relationship.

Graham Moore
Certified Master – The Leadership Challenge