It was Sunday afternoon when I went over the handlebars of my bike, bent my front wheel and landed on my head. My son Caleb wasn’t surprised, in fact I noticed he worries about me when we go riding. I admit I have had my share of accidents on my mountain bike. The thing about having a biking accident is that you can tell people. I posted a picture up on Facebook and had dozens of interactions within hours. People were asking if I was hurt, laughing at my stupidity and one person even told me that my particular bike has a design flaw that causes one to go over the handlebars.
Unfortunately, as leaders we don’t seem to be able to have a place to talk about our mistakes and get a similar response. Nobody wants to hear that we made a hiring mistake and had to fire someone. That our cash flow is tight and we might not have enough money to pay our bills because we misjudged our income for the month. When have we ever broadcast that our website failed, yes that one that we spent thousands of dollars and put in weeks of energy trying to perfect? Who do we talk to when we feel embarrassed because we can’t get our organization to that place where we think it should be?
The reason that many leaders like you and I are lonely is that as leaders we feel that:
The Buck Stops Here! I remember in the early years of running my companies where I felt that I needed to hide the pain of the tough decisions of firing someone or deciding how to manage cash flow to ensure that employees got paid. As leaders we are making tough decisions that affect our employees and feel that the buck stops with us. So often we think that we can’t share our struggles because no one has as much at stake as we do.
We Can’t Take It Home! I could see the eyes glaze over in my audience around the table when I talked about my day at work. If you are a business leader, you know what I am talking about. Family and friends just don’t get it, they don’t understand the complexity of the problems and they feel that they don’t have anything to offer in terms of advice.
We Feel Shame! If we are having difficulties in our organization, we sometimes feel that we can’t talk about the issues with our peers because we feel ashamed that we aren’t succeeding in our task. Rarely do we talk about our failures; those bad hires, the lack of income, the struggle to make ends meet, the marketing that isn’t working or the new product or service launch that went sideways. We want to give the impression that everything is always going great when it isn’t always.
We Don’t Know the Answer! Related to the shame of failure, is the embarrassment of not having the answer. We think because we are in the top seat we need to know the answer to every question and the solution to every problem. It takes big leaders with smaller ego’s to admit their weaknesses!
I have made more mistakes in the office than I have ever made on the trails. I have fallen on my face at work more than I have landed on my head in the bushes. While I have scars and injuries from my daily misjudgments, like many leaders I have more internal scarring from errors in leadership decisions I have made in leading my organizations. I bet the same goes for you!
In order to overcome our loneliness as leaders, we need to find a space where we can talk about our challenges, and our opportunities. Joining a peer support group for leaders and business owners, creating a safe space for your leadership team to work through challenges together, or finding a business coach or mentor to talk to, are three ways you can share your burden. As leaders we should also be looking to build relationships with others we can trust in similar positions, people who can listen to us and offer constructive advice.
Leadership doesn’t need to be lonely but often we think we are the only ones going through our particular challenges. We need to break through our shame and share our experiences to realize that we are only human just like every other leader. It might not be a wise decision to post all of your leadership mistakes out there on social media in order to get a response. However, finding someone you can trust to communicate what you are going through can be paramount to increasing your level of happiness and decreasing the loneliness while living at the top.
Dave Fuller, MBA, is an Award-Winning Business Coach and the author of the book “Profit Yourself Healthy”. Fallen one too many times? Email firstname.lastname@example.org