The adage about being lonely at the top has real meaning for those in charge of running a company, and leaders in general. When everyone reports to you, whom do you confide in and talk to about your problems and concerns. Without professional confidantes, you can start to feel like the Tom Hanks character in ‘Cast Away’ who, in his isolation, resorted to talking to a volleyball he named Wilson (after the ball’s manufacturer).
Talking to staff can lead to sharing information that isn’t appropriate. Sharing within the ranks might also undermine authority.
Friends and family are another option, but while they do care about you – this is an important component – they often do not really know enough about the circumstances and/or possess enough depth in your your field of expertise to provide meaningful guidance.
Your spouse, likewise, cares about you but might not be close enough to your professional problems to help solve them. Furthermore, involving a spouse can create an additional layer of stress in your relationship. You end up spending time out of the office working on office problems with your confidante and best friend when you should probably be working on your relationship.
For those in leadership positions, an obstacle to sharing problems can be fear. What will other people think if I have questions? What will they think if they find out I don’t have it all figured out or have all the answers? Will uncertainty look like weakness?
The tendency for those in leadership positions, who tend to be Type A personalities to begin with, is to say ‘I’m going to figure it out on my own.’ That only makes it harder for us to reach out and get help. That fear, that inability to unload your problems leads to isolation.
The solution for me was to join a local Vistage CEO peer group that meets once a month for an entire day. Vistage International is a 50-year-old organization with 15,000 members in 15 countries, made up of chief executives and leaders from various industries.
Our local group of 14 meets all day and dives deep into our businesses and all our issues. We set aside time to talk about our goals, finances, strategies, personal concerns, anything we want help with.
I could try, on my own, to meet individually with CEOs I know personally, but it’s likely that coffee or lunch we try to schedule will simply never happen, or happen too infrequently to be useful.
Vistage gives structure and commitment to your intentions. It has become so important to me, I can’t imagine missing a month. The meeting has become an amazingly powerful tool to break down that fear, shape my thinking, and give me an entirely different perspective on my problems. Our conversations are confidential. Everyone is committed. Everyone has to contribute. Everyone is held accountable.
The group isn’t afraid to ask you if you did what you said you were going to do. It’s like having a board of advisors that cares about you and wants to see you succeed without any agenda.
I would welcome your thoughts and opinions on the following:
If you are a leader or business owner, who do you talk to about problems and concerns?
What other groups or organizations provide counsel that is effective and conflict free?
Is the fear of disclosure about your issues keeping you stuck?