Leadership at the top is lonely. Very, very lonely. Sometimes, unbearably lonely. That is how most leaders feel.
Revenue targets, growth margins, profit margins, competitors, disruptions, conflicts … there are millions of reasons to stress out. The happiness of getting promoted from middle management to executive management could evaporate in minutes from these overwhelming pressures.
As an executive coach, I have met many of those leaders. They once were, brilliant, vibrant, and exceptionally talented but, soon after the promotion, the glow disappeared. Suddenly, they were alone. No one could understand the issues, problems they faced. There was no one to talk to or to get some advice. But the truth was they were not alone.
A helping hand, when in need…
A few years ago, I was working with a leader named Kimberly (not her real name). Kimberly was a highly successful executive who held a senior leadership role in a Fortune 100 company. She was in her 50’s, African-American, and a lawyer with an Ivy League MBA.
She had come quite a long way from a difficult childhood. Both her parents were undereducated. When she was a small child, her father passed away, leaving Kimberly and her family nearly destitute.
Despite this, Kimberly studied diligently in school, earned a scholarship, and was admitted to the best prep school in the city. With intelligence and hard work, she had built an immensely successful career.
When she was a middle manager, she hired me to get some executive coaching and we worked together to make her jump to the senior executive position which she excelled.
Her story was strikingly different from that of another one of my coaching clients, Angela (not her real name). Angela was amazingly talented and was a senior leader in a multinational organization. Like Kimberly, she is also African American, but about a decade younger.
Unlike Kimberly, Angela grew up much more comfortably, in a home with significant affluence and
positive role models.
At the time, Angela was a potential successor to the head of her division, but she was skeptical if she was doing the right thing. Competition to the senior position was high. And Angela felt stuck. And she came to me for coaching, and we worked together for about three months, but it was clear to both of us that there was something holding her back. After an in-depth discussion, we were able to get to the root of her apprehension.
“I’m sick and tired of being considered a token,” she finally told me. She was young, she was talented. She was brilliant in all possible ways and it was difficult not to notice her presence. She was outspoken and those same qualities labelled her, unfortunately negatively. Angela felt no one could understand her situation. That was when I remembered Kimberly. She must have had similar situations.
As Angela’s coach I felt that if she could talk to someone who had walked in the same shoes, it would be more impactful advice. With Angela’s permission, I shared her story with Kimberly and asked for her perspective on the problem.
Learning from the experience of other leaders is a career win-win.
Kimberly is a trailblazer who, despite her childhood challenges, retains unflagging hope, optimism, and even idealism, particularly when it comes to people. Yet at the same time, she is entirely grounded and practical, which has driven her to become exceptionally successful in her career.
Kimberly’s response to Angela’s concern was prompt and crystal clear: “Ah… that happens all the time. But who has the time to get caught up with that?… Look, as leaders, we must know one thing. We are being judged, we are being watched, and we are being criticized. That is the reality. But, if we know our strengths, if we know the value we can add to the company, that’s all-what matters”.
Upon hearing those words, Angela realized she had to let go of that baggage. More importantly, she came to peace knowing what she felt was all normal. That empathy and advice from Kimberly who had been in the same shoes as Angela made her at ease.
She took Kimberly’s advice on focusing on strengths and the value to add to the organization instead of thinking about the perceptions and pleasing others. After so many months, I saw a relaxing smile on Angela’s face again.
Anonymous advice from Peers can offer immeasurable value:
Kimberly and Angela’s experience are a perfect example of ‘peer-coaching’. Angela felt the advice and guidance more authentic while Kimberly felt the satisfaction of giving back and helping another leader who struggled just like her.
Energized by this exchange, I began to wonder: How much more could we achieve if successful leaders like Kimberly and Angela were able to find one another whenever they needed an anonymous sounding board?
I believe there’s a solution. And that is the LeaderBridge.
LeaderBridge is a multi-sided platform for all leaders in business, government, non-profit, and other organizations—from mid-manager through C-Suite—to run ideas and questions past one another.
The best thing about LeaderBridge is it is anonymous. That protects identities. It is global and virtual giving access to global leaders ‘24/7’.
If you find yourself wrestling with a problem, or you simply want to get some feedback on your ideas, then LeaderBridge allows you to discuss it with another leader, anonymously. The difference is they have gone through the same journey as you, hence they know everything you experience. But they have figured out how to swim through hence they can give you a bit more authentic advice. If you want to get started on idea sharing and learning from other leaders, sign up to Leaderbridge today.
“Together is better.”
As Simon Sinek says, I believe the concept ‘Together is better’. Leaders at the top are lonely and that is why they need each other. It does not need to be a lonely journey. Go ahead, find the perfect leadership companion, and enjoy the journey.