The other day I met a friend for breakfast and while we were discussing various topics, the issue of leadership and loneliness arose. I found it interesting that after many years of successfully developing companies, he confessed that he still usually eats lunch by himself. Why did I find this interesting? A couple of reasons popped into mind immediately. One reason was that he is a very connected person. The second was that it personally resonated with me. Unless it was a strategic business meeting, I too usually ate alone. Why? One excuse I used was that I could work while I ate or I could quickly finish and get back to the task. Another excuse was that I didn’t have to risk a conversation going deeper in which I had to be vulnerable. But truth be told, the main excuse as to why I developed a habit of eating by myself is that I didn't think there were others who understood where I was at, the pressures I faced, or the burden of my responsibilities. In other words, I could handle it myself. What I just described isn’t uncommon with leaders.
Why do leaders often choose the path of loneliness?
- They aren’t sure they can trust anyone in their organization to help them work through issues
- They don’t want to be viewed as weak by their employees
- They don’t want to give up any amount control
When I choose the path of loneliness, I usually end up with the following results.
- My life rhythm, or balance, is out of line. Because of this I’m operating in reactive mode regarding my work, family, and personal life.
- I get bogged down in the weeds of daily operations because I don’t trust the people I surround myself with to do what they were brought in to do. Some call this micro management; I call it insanity. A leader needs to have his vision unimpeded by the little stuff.
- I miss blind spots. Every leader has weaknesses. If I have not truly connected with a community in which trust, respect, and candid feedback is valued my weaknesses are usually ignored.
So, how can a leader keep from falling into the abyss of loneliness?
- Get involved with a peer to peer group. Take advantage of years of business and life experience from those who have, are, or will be going through what you are as a leader. I would highly recommend checking out Convene Now, c12 Group, or other similar business leadership groups.
- Surround yourself with people that you trust and respect. Once you identify these people, give them permission to have honest conversations with you. The bible in Proverbs 27:17 gives excellent insight regarding this as it states, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." Over time this builds a deep sense of community as they can help clarify or keep you on track regarding your life mission.
- Be missional in your purpose. What will be your legacy once your career is over? I’ve determined that at this point in my life that my legacy must be based upon an eternal perspective. I have come to understand how every decision that is made today will impact tomorrow and beyond. My eternal perspective aligns itself with Isaiah 40:8, "The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of God stands forever."
When you become connected and balanced, you’ll be amazed how this will trickle down to your team and in time you will see respect develop, focus sharpened, and the community strengthened around a missional purpose.