I came across a blog post by Tricia Broderick in January 2018. I often read Tricia’s thoughts and really enjoy her perspectives. This one was entitled Leadership Is Lonely and it largely lamented this aspect of leadership. To her credit, Tricia shared some activities that leaders could use to combat the effects of the inherent loneliness.
But I wanted to provide a different take or perspective.
I’ve been in leadership roles for over 25 years. In the early days of my leadership journey, I felt very much like Tricia. In fact, it was one of my early and shocking discoveries of leadership.
When I wasn’t leading, I was “friends” with most of my work colleagues.
But when I was promoted to a leadership role, things changed. I was no longer Bob. I suddenly became “the Boss”. And in today’s terms, that often meant being equated to the pointy-haired boss in the Dilbert cartoons. It also meant that it was suddenly a very lonely place to be.
I remember buying a picture at that time with an eagle on it with a quote that mirrored my feelings at the time. The quote was:
A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. A person does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of one's actions and the integrity of one's intent. In the end, leaders are much like eagles...they don't flock, you find them one at a time.
But then I matured a bit
But those feelings of loneliness waned over time. As I became more experienced and accomplished as a leader, I started to understand that the role didn’t have to be perceived as such a lonely role.
I realized that…
I wasn’t alone. I was, if I chose to emphasize it, part of several teams. I was part of a leadership team. I was part of an overall organizational team. And, I was part of my own team. The folks that reported to me. I realized that we were in it together. Sure, I had a unique role. Much like a ScrumMaster has within a Scrum team. But nonetheless, I was a team member.
That I could establish personal relationships with team members. I could get to know them…personally. In fact, I needed to do that. I could engage in conversations. Joke around. And even go out to lunch and socialize with them. Yes, I was the “leader”. But it didn’t necessarily mean that I had to walk alone every minute, of every day.
Yes, I was alone in final decision-making. For example, if someone needed to be fired, I didn’t ask a group to help provide the rationale for that decision. Or take a vote. I alone had to make the final determination. I alone had to have “that conversation” with the individual before they exited the building. And I along stood behind and had to provide a generic reason for the firing, because the details were confidential. Meaning, I couldn’t explain myself.
It’s not Lonely, It’s Lonely…At Times
I guess the real difference I have with Tricia’s take is that leadership isn’t and shouldn’t be lonely all of the time. It’s inherently a social and collaborative role. It’s intended to be inclusive. You’re listening and observing all of the time. You need to engage with your organization and with your teams.
But, at the end of the day, there can be only one. A singular leader who, if called upon to do so, makes the “hard calls”.
Which ARE made alone. Represented alone. Validated alone. And lived with, alone.
I also discovered along the way that leadership isn’t for everyone. That it’s easy to call yourself a leader. But the true essence of leadership is how you behave as a leader. And the truest outcome is how those you lead grow, and learn, and prosper as you are leading them.
To answer my title question. Is leadership a lonely place to be? I’d answer…
But it’s a tremendous place to be as well. One that is a privilege and honour to be leading individuals. That is if you’ve got the right intent, spirit, and mindset for it.
Stay agile my friends!