I was reminded by Forum Strategy’s CEO network event this week just how important connection is. “It’s lonely at the top” is a cliché that has been bandied around for years, yet it is still a feeling many of us have today. Harvard Business Review reported only this year that half of all CEOs they surveyed expressed feelings of loneliness and, of these, 61% said this loneliness hinders their performance. This sense of loneliness, isolation, detachment – call it what you will – is especially true, I think, for new CEOS who suddenly realise that the type of relationships that they had prior to taking up the role, even if it is in the same organisation, no longer exist in the same way and need to be redefined. It’s a similarly tough challenge for an incoming CEO, no matter how experienced, because the stripes are not yet earned, and people’s trust is not given lightly. And even for experienced CEOs, and those long in the tooth like me, there’s always that knowledge that you can’t (and shouldn’t) have that completely unreserved, unguarded, 100% frank relationship with those you employ or line manage. You’re the boss and you’re paid to keep some things to yourself and (maybe) some secrets. No point in turning to the Chair of the Board or other Trustees either. They are your boss.
Whilst I’m a big believer in transparency and honesty, it’s just plain politic to have that professional, frank, constructive relationship with those who govern you rather than a warts and all, “I’m on my knees, I can’t cope, give me a hug” kind of relationship. But let’s be clear, there will no doubt be those times when the latter is exactly what you need, (because we are going for those Bold Ambitions, right?) So, where do you look? Most of us probably default to loved ones at home or friends which, whilst very comforting, is probably not fair and, from bitter experience, doesn’t always turn out well. Loved ones and friends can empathise, console and encourage but very rarely can they completely understand and help you solve whatever problem or issue is confronting you – because they are not doing the same job. (And even if by some chance they are, it might be like two tsunamis hitting each other). These long years of experience have taught me that better answers lay elsewhere. Two places in fact. In a professional mentor/coach and in a well selected peer network.