Leadership is Lonely

Jan 17, 2023 | Leadership

“I want to be the boss.” 

Beginning at a young age, I used to utter those words constantly. From being in the classroom, to being on sports teams, to being in the workplace, I equated being “the boss”, or the leader, or the team captain, to being the most successful person in the room. Being the young and hungry overachiever that I was, I knew I wanted that job. 

I’ve been afforded that opportunity a few times since then. I’ve been the captain, the team leader, the coach, and now most recently, the manager. While I loved the opportunity to influence others, support them, and make decisions, I was also met with the rude awakening that being the leader is one of the loneliest positions on a team. 

While being part of a team is a joyous and challenging experience filled with collective camaraderie, triumphs, and lessons learned, being the leader of the team adds another layer of complexity. Team members of similar roles and responsibilities are afforded the same shared experiences, opportunities to evenly collaborate, and the role of being more of a participant or contributor in decision-making. However, the higher up the seniority level you move, the lonelier it gets.

One key lesson I’ve learned from being a leader is that I can’t be friends with the people I lead. I have a habit of wanting to build close personal relationships with everyone I work with, but doing so with your team can sometimes diminish the element of trust and professionalism in your relationship. It’s tricky for leaders to navigate the power dynamic that exists between themselves and their colleagues and subordinates. There is a clear element of responsibility, maturity, and objectivity that leaders must uphold in order to earn and maintain others’ respect and trust. Leaders must be more conscious of the way they emote, present themselves, and what they say, mostly because every single one of their team members is watching them closely. Leaders have the implicit authority to validate a team member’s view of their own performance, create calmness in the instance of chaos, as well as the responsibility to serve as a positive influence and role model for their teams. Furthermore, a leader’s ability to be open and vulnerable with their team can be tainted with the lens of their position. The team looks up to them, in which one impulsive, miscalculated, or selfish decision has the potential to completely derail their team’s trust. 

You may be reading this and thinking, “That’s a lot of pressure. Aren’t leaders supposed to be human beings too?” Exactly. It is a lot of pressure, and becoming a leader doesn’t magically release you from your own human emotions, stressors, or faults. But as Spider-man once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Therefore, we have a few thoughts and suggestions to cushion this responsibility: 

  • Appoint your ‘personal Board of Directors’. Not the actual Board of Directors for your organization; a group of trusted individuals in your life, outside of your team, who you can rely on for emotional and professional support, and comfortably leverage as a sounding board. This can include close professional friends, mentors, trusted advisors, consultants, or therapists (yes, real therapists). 
  • Create strong boundaries between your personal life and your work, in which you don’t look to work to completely fulfill your social or emotional needs. 
  • Continue honing your leadership skills and staying afloat of generational trends and theories. The more you train and educate yourself, the less energy it will take to put these skills into practice. 
  • Adequately prepare future managers for this somewhat ugly truth so that they can prepare themselves, as well as act accordingly. The transition from being an individual contributor to a manager can sometimes lack training and guidance on how to mentally and emotionally step into the role of a leader.

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