By Kerry Guard, Chief Executive Officer at MKG Marketing, helping complex B2B brands get found via transparent, measurable digital marketing.
As leaders, we hear this phrase a lot: “It’s lonely at the top.”
The saying to me is less about being alone and more about what causes leaders to feel alone. As leaders of an organization, we make hundreds of decisions that impact the people we lead, and those same team members don’t always have the context we do, and so resentment builds. They criticize the decisions, and we get defensive.
This behavior creates a rift — an us-versus-them — and isolates everyone.
A lot of the articles I read in researching this topic are about how to combat the loneliness by being around other leaders and/or mentors. This is fine, but in order to change the negative feelings and create positive ones, we have to connect with the people who make us feel isolated to begin with — the people we lead.
We accept this as part of the job, and that needs to stop because it’s not helping us lead and it’s not helping us build the next generation of leaders. People in our organizations want to become leaders, so why are we continuously setting them up to feel alone?
Here’s how I’ve started changing the narrative to stop the cycle.
I started sending out weekly videos during the pandemic. Every Wednesday I share company updates of what we as the leadership team are working on and how it will impact the rest of the team. Especially in a time of high uncertainty, showing up every week with updates eased anxiety.
If something unexpected happens or I communicate the wrong information in any of my lines of outreach, then as soon as the whole team is online, I call a meeting to course-correct.
An example of this was profit sharing. We had communicated an estimated profit sharing number to the team before our books closed for the quarter. Then when the books closed it was an entirely different number. We immediately called a meeting and talked about why this was so different and what we were doing to course-correct for the next quarter, and how they could help.
When you communicate, remember the information isn’t about you, it’s about them. Why do they need to know this? What questions might they have? How will this impact them, and how can they help?
Overcommunicate consistently. We have a weekly one-pager of updates, my weekly video, a monthly blog post and a quarterly all-hands meeting. All of these pull back the curtain and show how we’re serving the organization and, more importantly, forecast how it’s going to impact the team.
As I like to say at my company, it’s a two-way street. For as much as we talk to our team members, we’ve created feedback loops so we hear from them, too. As the executive team, we meet with our managing team bi-weekly to hear what challenges they’re facing, provide support and receive feedback. That way, in my next round of communication, I can find ways to address that feedback.
Brené Brown talks about four types of power:
• Power over
• Power to
• Power with
• Power within
People who lead with a finite mindset use power over. They’re the boss, and what they say goes — which creates turmoil, separation and loneliness.
People who lead with power to/with/within have an infinite mindset. They’re in it for the long haul. They have to be because collaboration and building trust take time.
When leading in a way that gives power back to the people you lead, leave your ego at the door and seek to understand all the time. To build a bridge to our team and have us all working together, we have to trust one another, and the only way for them to trust us is for us to trust them.
How do we build trust? We ask questions. Lots of questions. Not because we’re trying to be nosey or annoying, but because when we understand what is happening we make thoughtful decisions in regard to what they’re facing.
Again, this is a two-way street. Going back to the importance of creating feedback loops, meet with your managing team regularly to understand how the people in the organization are doing. What questions are they asking? What worries do they have? Does one person have these concerns or do multiple? Then, figure out what answers you have and what’s the best avenue to deliver the context.
Make The Time
Yes, this can be time-consuming, but if you’re looking to build a culture and brand that is to outlive your ownership, then as the leader it should be important to you to make the time. By creating consistent systems, it’s less time-consuming because it’s built into your schedule. This allows you to get into a regular rhythm and your team can know when to expect new information.
If you’re doing all this work around communication and you’re still feeling lonely, then there’s misalignment either in the way you’re communicating or what you’re communicating. We’re a remote-first company, spanning four time zones, so the newsletter format works for us. I’ve done surveys to confirm it, and I use a customer relationship management (CRM) tool so I can see open and click rates. Whatever systems you create, measure if they’re helping, and if they’re not, then go ask questions as to what would be helpful.
We can’t control other people’s feelings or opinions. We can only control our own. If we’re feeling lonely, then it’s up to us to do something about it and not just find solace in people who feel the same way, but actually solve the core issue. Opening lines of communication is a great place to start. Every decision we make has a direct impact on the people we lead. If those decisions are helping our bottom line but not our culture, then one will implode the other. If you truly believe in what you’re building, then bring people along with you, not for you.
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