Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s lonely at the top?”
If you’ve ever felt lonely as a leader, you’re not alone. Leaders everywhere have experienced the isolation that comes from being at the top. In fact, Harvard Business Review reported that “half of CEOs reported feelings of loneliness in their roles.” (And I suspect this number is actually much higher.)
Being a leader carries, “the ‘risk’ of experiencing isolation, inability to share with subordinates, and a heavy responsibility that many times must be carried alone by the leader,” wrote Ami Rokach in the International Journal of Leadership and Change.
And if you’re a business owner? Well, the feelings of isolation and loneliness are only further compounded. Research has shown that entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey. That entrepreneurs are more stressed, worried, and isolated than other workers. (Gallup Wellbeing Index)
Loneliness and Our Health
We know that loneliness can have serious impacts on our mental health, such as depression, stress, and anxiety. In severe cases, it can even lead to suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
But did you know that loneliness also has significant affects on our physical wellbeing?
“Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity,” shared Douglas Nemecek, MD, Cigna’s chief medical officer for behavioral health in this WebMD article.
And in this article from the Cleveland Clinic, Psychologist Dr. Amy Sullivan considers loneliness as another risk factor for chronic health conditions and lists it among other well-known factors, such as a:
- sedentary lifestyle,
- smoking, and
“When you’re experiencing loneliness, your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, go up,” Dr. Sullivan explains. “Cortisol can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system, and increase your risk for vascular problems, inflammation and heart disease.”
Loneliness isn’t just about being sad or needing to “fake it till you make it.” Loneliness can seriously affect both our mental and physical health and wellbeing. And as business owners and leaders, we need to prioritize taking better care of ourselves.
Why do I feel lonely?
You’re Part of an Elite Group
There are over 30 million small businesses in the U.S. Approximately 12 million of those are owned by women. And only “12% of women-owned businesses make between $100K – $250K in revenue per year” (which is typically when they hire their first W2 employee). (American Express | The State of Women-Owned Businesses Report) Of course, the more money your business makes, the smaller that percentage gets.
Needless to say, you’re part of a very elite group, my friend! 😉
However, that “eliteness” can leave you feeling lost, frustrated, and lonely. Obviously, the not-so-good side of being in such a small group.
You Don’t Have Any Peers
As a new business owner, you probably navigated the startup phase with a few close friends or “biz besties” who you relied on for support, advice, and encouragement. But as your business took off, things got more complex and you began hiring employees.
When you sought feedback, advice, and support from that same group you leaned on in the early days, you felt their responses lacked experience, substance, and understanding.
Which means you feel like you have no one to turn to, no one who truly understands what you’re feeling and experiencing as a leader. You no longer have any peers and that can very pretty isolating.
Teams Are Taxing
Although you’re in the company of people all day long, the company you keep as a leader is often very taxing.
Don’t get me wrong! I’m sure your team is full of lovely, wonderful, amazing people. But…they’re always asking questions, needing help, or wanting to run ideas by you. Which means having people reporting to you leave you feeling exhausted and alone.
Yes, your team is there to help you share the work, the responsibilities, and most of what goes into running the day-to-day operations of your business. But it takes a great deal of planning, communicating, and following up to make sure things are running smoothly.
If you’re the sole business owner and don’t have a manager in place to help you keep the team running, then this all falls to you. And never mind that you have your own work and projects to do, too.
You’re Never Really “Off”
Advancements in technology have only made loneliness in leadership more prevalent and more isolating. We’re constantly connected – so we’re never really “off.”
Email, Slack, Voxer, social media, CRMs, project management tools, and more can be great at helping us organize our businesses and manage multiple projects and team members with more ease.
BUT, they can also keep us connected to work and to our teams far beyond the boundaries of a healthy work schedule.
Since every single one of these tech tools can be accessed through our phones, it’s easy to “just pop in real quick” and “check out” what everyone on your team is doing. Which actually means you’re “popping out” of your home / family / social life constantly and “checking out” of life outside of work.
Of course, all of this “popping in” and “checking out” has us nose-deep in our phones and our minds on our businesses, leading to more feelings of disconnection and loneliness. Vicious cycle, right?
What can I do to overcome loneliness?
Now it’s time for the million dollar question: What in the world can I do to overcome this loneliness? I have 3 tips for you that’ll set you on the path to feeling more connected in no time!
3 Ways to Overcome Loneliness as Leader
1. Develop Your Self-Awareness
The most important place to start is developing your self-awareness so you can identify when you’re feeling lonely. Start by journaling through these questions to get a better understanding of
- When was the last time I felt lonely?
- What caused me to feel lonely?
- How often do I feel lonely?
- Are there any common themes (people, places, events) that trigger feeling lonely?
When you have a better understanding of when, how often, and what is causing this feeling, you can then take steps to overcoming loneliness.
2. Establish Healthy Boundaries
As business owners and leaders, our boundaries are often so blurred (or non-existent) that they leave us very little time for our families, our friends, our hobbies, and ourselves. Coincidentally, these are all ways we can feel more connected! Journal through the following questions to explore your boundaries:
- Write down your typical daily or weekly schedule (personal and business).
- Do you have a clear start and stop time for work?
- Do you ever work outside of your normal work hours (ex: evenings, weekends, etc.)?
- Have you ever said, “Just a sec, I need to check ___________(my email, Slack, Voxer, social media, etc.).”
- When was the last time you went out with friends?
- When was the last time you did something you enjoy, just for yourself?
A Word of Caution: Please do not let this list of questions or your answers to them make you feel like a horrible leader, business owner, wife, mom, sister, friend, person…you get the gist. We ALL have room for improvement in this area. And I am absolutely thinking through some areas I need to focus on this coming week as I’m writing this. Start with one area and build from there!
3. Expand Your Circle
We cannot do this alone. We simply cannot. And we should not.
You need a circle of women who understand what it’s like to run a business at this new level, as well as what it takes (physically, mentally, and emotionally!) to lead a team.
Over 80% of women surveyed in a recent KMPG Women’s Leadership Study, “believe access to, and networking with, female leaders will help them advance.”
The study identified confidence building, leadership training, and the ability to network with women leaders, as key elements to helping expand women’s leadership.
Unfortunately, women receive far fewer opportunities and access to leadership training and development, mentoring, and networking (with members of the same sex) that men, stifling their growth and development as leaders.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can choose to seek opportunities to develop your leadership skills, build your confidence, and network with fellow women leaders. And I’d love to help you!
If you’re ready to take the next step in your leadership journey, schedule a free call with me to learn how I can help. Together, we can become stronger leaders for today and for the future.
May is Mental Health Month
This post deals with some serious issues that can be hard to handle on your own.
If you’ve followed me for a while, then you know I’m a strong advocate for mental health and see my therapist (shout out to Ben!) regularly. If this is your first time here, then welcome, I’m so glad you’re here – and now you know! ☺️ All that to say, there is NO shame in asking for help.
May is Mental Health Month. While 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, everyone faces challenges in life that can impact their mental health.
If you, or a friend or loved one, are in distress, thinking about suicide, or would like emotional support, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States.
You can speak to a skilled, trained crisis worker at 1-800-273-8255. Your call is always confidential and free. Talking with someone about your thoughts and feelings could save your life. Please know, you are not alone and help is available.
For more resources on mental wellness and Mental Health Month, you can visit https://www.mhanational.org/mental-health-month.