The Loneliness of Leadership

Big Red Car here.  Going to be a very nice day in the ATX.  What a Sunday.

Did you see that moon?  Supposedly the largest and brightest moon in a long, long, long time.

So The Boss is chatting with one of his CEO clients and he is hearing a lot of talk about how lonely it is at the top of the food chain — well, the org chart anyway.  Hmmm.  WTF, Big Red Car?

It is lonely at the top

The loneliness of leadership is a real phenomenon.

As Baroness Margaret Thatcher used to say when she was Prime Minister of England:  “Being Prime Minister is a lonely job — you cannot lead from the crowd.”

Jean-Paul Satre said:  “If you are lonely when you are alone, then you are in bad company.”  And, you, brilliant young and not so young CEOs, are absolutely not in bad company.

So, first, brilliant young and not so young CEOs, the notion of being a bit lonely is a normal reaction to the nature of your duties.

Do not fret.  Recognize it, embrace it and do something about it.


Every CEO needs a confidant with whom the CEO can discuss certain aspects of his duties.  This is no more complex than having a sounding board or someone to simply convert the written word or the introspective thought into the CEO’s spoken word — his authentic voice.

As a CEO if you are not a bit anxious from time to time, then you are not really doing your job.  Anxiousness is part of being an entrepreneur.

Remember this earlier discussion?  Entrepreneurial Anxiety — When Panic Attacks

This decision must be carefully made because it can be fraught with peril.  A CEO has to be careful, as an example, of confiding too fully about certain things in a Boardmember or an investor.

The Big Red Car has a very simple maxim:  “Never confide in anyone who can fire you.”

A CEO may be reluctant to confide in a spouse for fear of scaring the Hell out of her and marriages have no lack of tension naturally.  The Big Red Car does not reject this out of hand, particularly if your spouse is in business or the startup and small company ecosystem himself.  This is a close call and the Big Red Car only cautions thoughtfulness.

The Big Red Car is particularly keen on a parent who may have business or life experience and thus is able to provide not just a sympathetic ear but a calibrated ear and real wisdom and judgement.

Peer to peer conversation

A CEO should take a careful look at peer organizations such as Young Presidents Organization which by their very nature provide such peer to peer conversation opportunities.

The Boss was a YPOer and found it particularly useful.  YPO has a formal activity called the “forum” in which a small group of CEOs are matched to form their own personal Board of Confidants.  The Boss sings the praises of this approach and it was always very useful to him.

There are other organizations such a TAB (The Alternative Board) and Vistage which bills itself as an executive coaching and peer advisory group.

CEO mentoring, advisory and coaching

More and more CEOs are recognizing the attractiveness of formalizing the ability to have a constant and continuous relationship with a professional CEO mentor, advisor and coach.

Mentoring, advising and coaching are different functions with mentoring subsuming both advising and coaching.  Mentoring focuses on the development of the CEO on a more holistic basis — personal and professional and is more of a shaping experience.

What most CEOs need is a bit of “advice” from a seasoned and experienced advisor who has actually been a CEO himself.  This relationship develops into a tool for the CEO to discuss and work on issues that might otherwise give rise to undue tension.

A good CEO coach can provide not just a sounding board and wise counsel — he can say with authority what has and has not worked in his own personal experience and thus save the CEO a lot of time.  This is what the CEO needs — someone with whom to discuss the challenges of his position with an eye toward reasoning toward a solution.

A salty CEO advisor might describe it as drawing the solution from within the CEO himself.  The solution is often right inside there but needs to be coaxed out through a calm discussion of the alternatives and their implications.

A CEO has to constantly learn from experience but she does not have to pay full tuition, she can rent someone else’s experience for a small tuition payment.

Professional reading

There is more knowledge being developed and cataloged and crystallized than ever before.  A thoughtful CEO may find solace in the professional writings of others.  Do not overlook blogs on these subjects as they may provide a very short path between the real world and the written word.

The challenge is that there is also more worthless crap out there as everyone who can type becomes an ePublisher.  Big Red Car did not say it would be easy, ya’ll.

So there you have it, dear CEOs.  You can do this if you will put your mind to it.  Yes, you can!

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car.