Team leader speaking to team in informal setting

Is Loneliness the Penalty for Leadership? – Making Meaningful Connections for Effective Leadership

“Loneliness is the penalty of leadership.” Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Antarctic expedition has gone down in history, not just for the success of its outcome, but for Shackleton’s heroic example of leadership under the most extreme of conditions. The survival of his entire crew depended entirely on his decisions. Fortunately for them, Shackleton made the right ones and facing constant life and death situations, it’s little surprise that he deemed his position to be lonely.

Among current corporate leaders, Shackleton’s musings would easily find resonance. According to the Harvard Business Review, half of CEOs expressed feelings of loneliness, with a full 61% of those believing that this hampers their ability to do their job. And of course, it’s easy to see why. Occupying the CEO position, peers become few, just as the weight of responsibility dramatically increases which is a strange paradox given that people are the heart and soul of any business and without shared responsibilities and effective teamwork, business objectives are prone to fall by the wayside.

Aside from these everyday pressures of leading an organisation, today’s CEO is often in the media –  their decisions held up to the harsh glare of public scrutiny as well as within the organisation they lead. This often intrudes on personal privacy and disrupts work-life balance, further compounding the sense of isolation. It has been rightly said by many senior managers that trust is hard to earn but easy to lose which can make them guarded against vulnerability. However, Shackleton’s leadership style is more paternalistic than what we observe today. We believe that vulnerability is key to developing that trust and a ‘leading at all levels’ style helps our delegates increase their confidence, self-awareness and team cooperation to diffuse the demands of leadership.

For a CEO feeling the loneliness of their position, there can be a significant price to pay in physical as well as emotional wellbeing. Studies have shown that amongst lonely individuals, the risk of coronary heart disease is 29% higher, with a 32% increase in the risk of a stroke. Higher levels of stress-induced cortisol can create a myriad health complications.

What can be done? At the Leadership Trust, we teach the benefit of empowering teams with shared decision making and responsibilities. Having worked with many clients facing the issue of loneliness in upper levels of management and through experience with a vast cross-section of business leaders for the past 49 years, we counter this by helping leaders create strong relationships that assure employees of their value and secure their investment in a way that transforms organisational performance.

Based on a methodology that combines behavioural psychology with military precision training, we offer a range of programmes, courses, personal coaching, and peer problem-solving and support sessions, all within a safe and supportive environment. The sense of community and shared purpose, fostered among fellow participants, allows for ongoing growth and collaboration, long after the course has been completed. This is supported by the wealth of knowledge shared through our LifeLong alumni platform which embeds the learning and provides a long-term resource for a fruitful leadership journey.

Underpinning our work is the ethos that, in order to know how to lead others, we must first know ourselves. Not just in business, but also outside of it in our personal relationships. Only by unlocking our personal power can we reach our true potential, and build the resilience required for leadership. As we say “leadership is simple, but it is not easy.” The undeniable component beyond leading self is then leading others, and we choose to reframe Sir Shackleton’s sentiment to, loneliness is an invitation to forge deeper connections for effective leadership with confidence.

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