I like the band Three Dog Night. They were popular in the 1970’s and early 1980’s so yes, that makes me old. (Not as old as dirt but getting there if you ask my nieces and nephews) One of their hit songs is called, “One“. “One” is also known as One Is The Loneliest Number. This song popped up into my head as I have been working with several clients over the last few months.
For many leaders and entrepreneurs, the feeling of being ONE or ALONE is not uncommon. That is the good news! However, that fact does not make it any less isolating or in some cases downright depressing at times.
Leaders in large and small organizations encounter moments of feeling isolated from their friends, family and members of their team at different times and in different ways. This feeling of loneliness can become almost crushing and debilitating. Other times it is simply that those around you do not understand the weight on your shoulders to perform the way you need to.
Leaders and business owners must find a way to cope with the feeling of being alone in order to be effective. Those leaders who cannot build a support system to counter this sense of isolation often flounder and will sometimes fail or regress.
The following items represent some of the advice that I give to my clients when they express feelings of loneliness and isolation.
1) Realize that you may never fully be able to explain what you are going through to those around you. Any language is insufficient to fully define human emotion. Language may allow us to communicate some of what we are feeling. However, most of the time there is a part of the emotional experience that we just cannot verbalize.
2) Get involved with a support team of people who are better than you who have are going through or have been through your situation or close to it. Even with the lack of acceptable defining words they WILL understand, and be able to empathize or advise. There are people and organizations that are around us who want to help entrepreneurs and leaders succeed. These people and organizations want to share their hard won knowledge and lessons learned with someone who is putting in the blood, sweat, and tears of leading others and building businesses. They will help you avoid some of the pain because they have been there before you and know where some of the hidden dangers are that you have not even thought of yet.
3) Find a single voice that you can truly be open with. This person should be someone who is your first and best source of speaking truth to you. Yes, this could be a coach but it does not have to be. It could be a mentor, a parent or family member (but make sure they can separate their love from the truth you need to hear). While you should have a group of people who can speak to you and provide you with valuable insight there is value in having a go-to single voice that is both quickly accessible and someone who knows you extremely well.
4) Read or listen to books or podcasts. Why read or listen to books or podcasts when this is a solitary activity? The answer is that if you are reading or listening to the right kinds of content it is the best way to access someone else’s thoughts and feelings on subjects that you are experiencing. Who wouldn’t want to have direct access to other leaders that have gone through similar challenges speak directly to you? In a sense, that is what the books they have written or the podcasts they have recorded do for us. This does not mean take everything they say as gospel. Keep a notebook of ideas that you can tweak for your situation, or just ideas that come to you while reading or listening.
5) Plug into your spouse or partner. I do not want to get into too much relationship discussion here, but I will say that as leaders and entrepreneurs turning to your spouse or partner for support or input should be on your list of things to combat feelings of isolation. Again, we are limited on several areas as to how well a spouse or partner will understand the business or leadership challenges we face but if you have a good relationship, they want to help even if it is only to hear you vocalize what you are thinking.
Coach’s Wrap Up
The phrase, “it’s lonely at the top” is true. No one will ever fully understand what you are going through. However, if we as leaders and entrepreneurs surround ourselves with mastermind or support groups, find a trusted voice and plug into valuable resources created by leaders that have traveled the path before us, then we are as prepared as we can be and do not have feel like the loneliest number.