“It’s lonely at the top, but the view’s not bad.”
Often dismissed and rarely discussed, many CEOs are plagued with feelings of isolation. In fact, a survey from Harvard Business Review found that half of CEOs report feeling lonely. And while lavish salaries and corporate CEO behavior don’t often instill empathy, any leader’s isolation negatively affects decision-making, culture and performance.
Remember Enron? After bankrupting the company and resigning, CEO Jeffrey Skilling claimed ignorance when testifying before Congress. Many Americans wondered how the man at the top could know nothing of what happened beneath him
Many CEOs are ensconced in a tight-knit bubble, surrounded by sycophants and gatekeepers. Often, this entourage shields a leader from organizational problems, and offers limited and filtered information on operations, customers and employees.
Granted, time constraints necessitate a bit of gate-keeping and a good bit of delegation. But having a stable of handlers deciding what a leader knows exacerbates isolation. And usually these yes-sayers don’t push back on bad decisions.
This isolation and narrow field of vision can compromise decision-making, render leadership less effective and in short, hurt business. While an inevitable part of the job, whether it compromises your abilities is up to you.
So, what can you do to reduce executive isolation? First, you must recognize it. In the flurry of activity that accompanies the role at the top, isolation is easy to ignore. Take a minute and ask yourself if you’re feeling disconnected, if your subordinates whole-heartedly agree with you, and if you’re getting first-hand data on your organization.
Second, get out of your literal bubble. Escape the board rooms, the formal décor, the handlers. Interact with your customers, talk with lower-level teams (without their bosses present), seek anonymous feedback.
Tell your senior team to challenge you – then really listen. Encourage a culture of candor and cultivate the strength of ego to handle criticism. It’s not always easy, but it is well worth it. The best leaders have confidants who shoot straight, and keep the boss in the know.
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