Sharing the Yoke: Support for Leaders

We’ve all heard the old truism that “it’s lonely at the top.” Although it may be a cliché, there’s a lot of truth to it.

Many CEOs and others who find themselves in high positions of authority within their organizations begin to feel the sting of loneliness and isolation at some point in their careers. Often, my coaching clients aren’t sure what to do about these feelings—on the one hand, who wants to complain about their success?–but on the other hand, over the long term these feelings can damage not only your ability to be an effective leader but your mental health as well.

So what can you do about it?

The beginning of the new year is a great time to think about what dissatisfies you about your work life and what steps you can take to change it. Below are some tips and suggestions for finding the support you need as a leader.

1)      Seek out a coach, therapist, or both. You may already be participating in either coaching or therapy (or both), but if not, they’re worth considering. Coaches and therapists fulfill different roles, so you’ll need to assess your needs before you decide which to pursue. The International Coach Federation has some great resources to help you determine your coaching needs and fine someone in your area to work with. Psychology Today is a good place to start if you’re looking for a counselor or therapist in your area. The stigma around coaching and therapy has lessened greatly in the last decade, and seeking help when you need it will strengthen you as a leader and as an individual.

2)      Seek the company of other leaders. As part of my coaching practice, I sometimes recommend that my clients join the ExecuLink™ Senior Leadership Forum. ExecuLink™ offers peer coaching for high-level leaders working in non-competitive industries. During forum meetings, participants discuss their challenges, obstacles, successes, and offer each other advice and support. High-level leaders often struggle with having a lack of peers, so peer coaching is a great way to “share the yoke” of leadership and ameliorate that sense of isolation that can begin to drag even the best of us down.

3)      Take advantage of professional organizations. If you’re an executive, you are probably already a member of one or several professional organizations. But how often do you take advantage of these memberships? Conferences and meet-ups can be a great opportunity to connect with other leaders and innovators. When you go to events, make sure you take down the phone numbers, emails, Twitter handles, etc. of the interesting people you meet, and make an effort to keep in touch. If you do this regularly, you can begin to build a network of support for yourself.

4)      Seek out new hobbies and non-work related activities. If you’re feeling isolated at work, the problem may not necessarily be entirely at the office. An active social life is a key part of mental well-being. We don’t all need the same amount of social activity (for instance, introverts may be satisfied with having a few close friends that they see a few times a month), but we all need some. What do you enjoy doing outside of work? Do you like to hike, or play sports, or work on art projects? Meetup is a great way to start looking for a social group in your area that brings together like-minded people. You might be surprised by the connections you can make this way.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you take the time to care for yourself this year. As a leader, it’s so easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day struggles of managing an organization. It’s crucial that you assess your well-being and take steps to maintain it.

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