Loneliness – A Leadership challenge & a killer

An initiative I recently heard about by Global Shapers Belfast – Happy to Chat, encouraging conversations and reducing loneliness reminded me of a Harvard article I read last year, writes Cara Macklin, Cara Macklin Coach.

The study, almost 80 years old, proved that strong relationships help us live longer, and be happier. Director of the study Robert Waldinger said, “our relationships and how happy we are in them has a powerful influence on our health. Those who kept warm relationships got to live longer and happier. As we get older loneliness kills,” It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”

This got me thinking of one of the main challenges I hear from many of the senior business leaders I coach. Don’t worry, they aren’t worried about dying younger, just that it can be lonely at the top. As you worked hard, moved up the ranks with the ambition to be a senior leader, no one told you in the interview how lonely it can be.

Unlike elderly people, who are often physically on their own, you can be surrounded by people in business but still feel lonely as a leader. With your board of directors or manager you must put your best foot forward, and always be aiming for top performance.

Although you have a great team, you need to remain positive, strong and competent to inspire and motivate them to the next level. With your own family and friends, you don’t want to talk work or worry them and just want to relax and be yourself. The higher up the ladder you go, the less colleagues you have around you.

Through my own experience as a business leader, and coaching other leaders there are various techniques you can use to help reduce loneliness. The more senior you are, the more removed you become from front line employees and often your customers. I learnt early on, it’s crucial for senior leaders to be on the shop floor and present with employees.

This is the only way to get a sense of the feelings and energy in the organisation, eliminating small issues before them become problems. As a leader, it gives you fulfilment to see the teamwork among employees and remember the energy and comradery in the organisation to deliver the company goals and vision.

Proactively engaging with customers, not only keeps your finger on the pulse of what customers want and need but also keeps them motivated to what the company ultimately delivers and the impact it has on other’s lives. Although these both take discipline and time, proactively engaging with employees and customers will reduce the feeling of loneliness and reminds the leader of their overall purpose and WHY.

Build your own personal board room of people, to advise and support you as a leader. An organisation puts together a board, based on the needs of the business and the personalities and strengths of each individual. Use the same principles and discipline, when choosing your own personal board.

Think of the personalities and values they have to support you. Think of their experience and strengths to compliment your weakness when you need advice.

Recently I was asked in a meeting, what are the main reasons leaders come for coaching and what is the benefit for them. In my experience, loneliness is one of the key challenges. As a senior leader there is no one you can be 100% totally honest and authentic with except for a coach. With your manager or board you have to put on the best performance face, with your team you need to remain in control, calm and inspirational.

With your family and friends you don’t want to be honest with all the problems and challenges you have in the business as you could worry them. With your coach, you can be 100% honest and bring your whole self, both work and personal to the conversation. This truly has a phenomenal impact on both your performance and quality of life outside work.

In business today, it’s so beneficial people can work flexibly often working from home. Richard Branson, is a huge advocate of allowing people to work from home. However, leaders need to be careful people don’t become removed from the organisation or disengaged and lonely. Building a model that gives people the flexibility, but also there is nothing to beat face to face interactions building stronger connections in the team.

Engage with like minded leaders outside your organisation. Today there are lots of organisations which support senior leaders, entrepreneurs and start-ups. Leaders previously often felt they were alone and couldn’t really talk openly about their challenges to others.

Connecting in with great business organisations makes you realise there are other people in the same boat, where they have no conflict with what your doing, and you can have honest conversations. Often you realise they have encountered the same problem or been there before and you can learn so much.

On a final note as we are coming into the autumn and darker evenings I would urge everyone to think of those who could be lonely at this time. Loneliness in Northern Ireland is currently described as an ‘epidemic’. “

One in five adults in Northern Ireland are always or often lonely” (Co-op and British Red Cross), and “79% of people said that small moments of connection are a valuable way of tackling loneliness” (Campaign to end loneliness, 2018) Again, well done to the team at Global Shapers Belfast for their recent initiative – #Happy to chat NI.

Cara Macklin both a Business Leader and Leadership Coach, combines her hands on business experience previously as a director of the award winning Macklin Care Home Group, Malone Lodge Hotel and NI’s first Lifestyle Care Home with her professional coach training. As founder of Cara Macklin Coach she helps successful leaders with an entrepreneurial spirit go from good to great through developing themselves, their team and ultimately grow their business

Contact Cara Macklin, [email protected] or for further information visit www.caramacklin.com


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