We assume leaders are the LEAST lonely because it seems they are constantly surrounded by others. A leadership position seems prestigious. Combined with a flashy Instagram account, you might think leaders are problem free. This past weekend, I heard devastating news that a young pastor I knew committed suicide. I’m chillingly reminded it can be very lonely at the top. Lonely leaders might be more common than we believe.
One of our men’s group leaders challenged us to reach out to other leaders and encourage them. As I called and encouraged a pastor I knew, it hit me that I, at moments, can be a lonely leader. How could this be? I’m constantly busy, work in sales (arguably the most social job), and when home, my time is overtaken by our little one and the much needed dates with my wife. I’m never alone. But, loneliness can be felt differently by everyone.
I recently saw a quote from Gordon Hinckley: “The price of leadership is loneliness.” And it hit me that when everything is going great, I don’t feel lonely. It’s when things get stressful, when life becomes hard, I feel like I don’t have anyone to talk to or process life with. This is a common feeling for anyone in leadership. Here are a few common reasons for lonely leaders:
- Time with others may be more action-oriented and therefore may feel more quantity-based vs. quality based and shallow vs. deep.
- A leader’s schedule may be so full and overwhelming it doesn’t allow for meaningful interactions nor downtime to reflect on life.
- A leader may feel the need to act strong and therefore doesn’t want to show his or her weaknesses.
- A leader may have unhealthy boundaries that prevent his or her needs from being met.
- A leader’s reputation or guardedness may make them seem less approachable.
- Many leaders don’t have anyone they can reach out to when they are in need.
- Many leaders don’t have mentors to pour into them.
- Leaders may feel others don’t care about their feelings nor understand the sometimes enormous pressure.
- Some leaders are prideful perfectionists which keep them from asking for help.
- Leaders can feel misunderstood and unpopular at times which causes them to withdrawal.
- Some leaders are scared that sharing their feelings or opinions will reveal they aren’t wise, nor have good leadership abilities.
I refuse to accept lonely leaders are a natural part of leadership. It doesn’t have to be that way. Many of the reasons for lonely leaders are generally unhealthy. The celebrity culture of pastors, the pedestal we put leaders upon isn’t helping.
Two things leaders need to end the loneliness streak:
- Leaders need downtime. Some people are natural introverts. My wife loves having time alone. As an extrovert, I get my energy and prefer to be around others. So, I naturally assume when I’m feeling down, I just need to be in a crowd. In reality, leaders need time to think. I recently had dinner with one of my entrepreneur friends, Jimmy Hutcheson. He told me he’s addicted to Birding (rides a bird scooter through an app) during his work day. But I thought, What a great and healthy way to spend your downtime! He clears his mind vs. stuffing it with meaningless social media information.
- Leaders need a safe place to vent. Unlike everyone else, a leader can’t openly complain. And often, leaders don’t want to dump their work problems at home. One of the activities I’ve recently implemented into my life is getting together with a small group of men. We meet weekly, and it’s a good place to get any issues off of my chest. Other leaders might find the help they need through therapists or coaches. Sometimes, being open to everyone can be therapeutic. As I’ve written before, the best leaders lead with vulnerability.
About a month ago, I spontaneously tried to introduce some of the new fellas to our men’s group by asking them individual questions. I strayed from being genuine and tried to be funny. It didn’t work…it was a disaster. My embarrassment alone kept me from talking to anyone in depth about it. I realized I keep an unhealthy performance mindset. We all make mistakes. We’re imperfect and need to remind ourselves of our imperfection to bring us back down to earth when elevated perfectionism calls. Even as a leader, we can’t take ourselves too seriously.
Small things add up. It’s not like I was looking for a deep confessional. Through even a simple nod, I just needed the assurance, “I see you. You’re ok. You’ve got a friend in me. You don’t have to be a lonely leader.”