Are leaders out on a limb, and if so, should they be?
Recent examples of leaders seemingly out of step with their culture and environment, in both the worlds of business and politics, are continually making the headlines.
These are people who should be representative of the organisations and institutions they lead, but who instead seem isolated from them.
Leadership can be a lonely place, but is this inevitable? What are the qualities of leadership, and the structures surrounding it that can mitigate this loneliness, and help keep leaders on track?
Mark Cushway, leadership expert, entrepreneur and motivational speaker, discusses the loneliness of leadership.
The CEO as Decision Maker
“Often, it’s a case that important issues requiring resolution are delegated upwards. Once they reach the top level, there is, effectively, nowhere left for them to go.”
This puts the person at the top in potentially isolated position, and if they are receiving a constant input of things that require their attention they may end up feeling dislocated from what is going on around them.
At its worst, this can lead to autocratic and seemingly impulsive decision-making, where the very sense of isolation lends itself to the erosion of teamwork and decisions based on consultation.
“The more this happens, the more isolated the leader becomes, and the more elevated their position, which in turn increases the distance between themselves and other people.”
Status Isn’t Everything
Status should, in theory, be one of the positives of being recognised as a leader. However, as events in the world of politics demonstrate, leaders can, in fact, find themselves with diminished status, even while they continue in their role.
“You are in a position as a leader where you’re very exposed and you are singled out as having the ultimate responsibility for what is going on in your organisation, business, or even in your country”
Think of how stock markets react to news of when CEOs depart, or are newly appointed, or when certain leaders are elected.
“Traditional views of leadership may not be helpful either, where they are expected to have very special qualities, as a breed apart.”
“This heightened expectation of leaders can do two things:
- It can add to their sense of loneliness and dislocation
- It can mean they are held up to unreachable standards of performance and overall excellence.”
The Problem with Certainty
“The idea that leaders are somehow born, and not made, bleeds into the sense that they must always represent absolute certainties. This is something reinforced in the political sphere where leaders can often make bold statements about things they subsequently fail to deliver on.”
“This adds further pressure to a role for which many are unprepared when it comes to the sheer isolation and loneliness people experience at the top.”
“There is a sense that leaders find themselves unmoored from the normal goings on around them, and that even if they have come from within an organisation, their role now largely separates them from it”
What sort of support structure might leaders benefit from, which can help them stay grounded and offer them assistance?
The Right Advice and Help for Leaders
“Leadership development should not just be about preparing people for leadership, but also supporting those already within it.”
This might be a combination of mentoring, coaching and professional advice.
“The nature of the CEO’s role can mean it is difficult for them to establish and maintain close relationships and friendships at work,” Mark concludes. “The challenge is for them to find a source of support that they can rely on, but that will help them ask the right questions of themselves.”
For an additional read, please visit: