CEO Coaching: It’s Still Lonely at the Top

“Many CEOs and leaders you meet from the outside seem to lead exciting lives,” Matt Murray, former editor of the Wall Street Journal, told me recently. “But in real life many of them are not very functional human beings.”

—Peter Vanham, Fortune, CEO Daily

The idiom “it’s lonely at the top” has been around a long time. Leadership pressure has no doubt been around since early human existence (perhaps earlier—the most ferocious T-Rex no doubt felt isolated!). In the many years I’ve coached CEOs, and the years I was one, it’s prevalent. ILATT (I’ve already grown weary of typing the phrase) is a universal condition for CEOs (and no doubt heads of government and those T-Rexes—sometimes one in the same), but it varies greatly in degree.

I’ve mostly worked with very functional human beings, to dispute the quote above, but there’s an amount of positional pain for CEOs, which I’ll delineate from the corruption and dysfunction that can come with power. (When it appears as though most everyone respects, obeys, and adores you, you start to breathe your own exhaust and develop god syndrome.)

The antidote to both ILATT and god syndrome is talking with (which includes listening to!) someone who has your best interest. Someone who’ll not only listen and empathize but also  tell you the truth, even if painful. Could be a friend, family, board members, or a coach. Might be all of them, but you must be open to the conversations. You have to want to get better, and you must subordinate your ego. 

God syndrome, once fully entrenched, can only be cured by starting with significant pain, like losing relationships that matter to you, getting fired, or realizing that people mainly want to be with you because of your title or wealth. Leave those behind and you’ll be a lonely, miserable person. 

ILATT is eminently addressable if you’re brave enough to be vulnerable and talk about your challenges. Others have gone before you. Many of your peers see things more clearly and develop better decision-making skills or leadership tactics because they asked for help.

When you’re at the top of the pyramid, there are obligations that are yours alone. However, you don’t have to do it alone!

Some who shouldn’t be there end up in leadership roles and need help understanding that. However, most who suffer from positional loneliness only need to ask for help. The world needs lots of great leaders. If you (and others) believe you’re one, get some support!

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