It's lonely at the top

It's lonely at the top

Once upon a time, there was a man called Odysseus. He was the king of Ithaca and he fought at the war of Troy together with his men. After the war, he started his trip back home, but, unfortunately, his 12 ships were driven off course by storms. They travelled all around the Mediterranean Sea, chased by angry gods, seduced by vindictive women and shipwrecked by humanlike landscapes.

During these 10 years of struggle, Odysseus lost all of his men. Eventually, he escaped and survived, because he was the only one who really believed in his return home. And he reached it alone.

Leadership is a lonely trip. And like Odysseus, it's not about the final destination (Ithaca), it's all about the journey; the insightful and painful travails but also the exciting and wisdom-imparting adventures. Yes, it is lonely at the top.

Loneliness and leadership

50% of CEOs report experiencing feelings of loneliness in their role, and 61% believe it hinders their performance. First-time CEOs are particularly susceptible to this isolation. Nearly 70% of first-time CEOs who experience loneliness report that it negatively affects their performance, leads to poor decision-making, negativity, fatigue and frustration.

Not just CEOs

These feelings are not limited to CEOs. In fact, loneliness can affect any individual with newfound authority, such as entrepreneurs, team managers and community leaders. Women in leadership positions face additional challenges: when they run their own businesses and raise their kids at the same time, when they come back to work after maternity leave, when they face inequality in corporate environments, and most of all, when they don’t adhere to leadership stereotypes.

Why is it lonely when you are in a leadership position?

It's lonely mostly during periods of decision-making. It's lonely because you expected to have people on this journey with you. “Leaders are not supposed to be alone, they have a team,” you thought. It's lonely because nobody understands and shares your vision. It's your mission, it's your goal, and for others, it seems like an ordinary job, sometimes even something strange.

It's lonely because you carry your own unique emotional baggage. You feel things before others feel them: the passion, the burden, the dream, the doubts, the stress, the rejection, the satisfaction. It's lonely because relationships change after you become a leader and people you counted on, do not come through. It's lonely because somebody has to set the example, to make the commitment, and that somebody is you. You do things before others do them, you initiate.

A gift in disguise

Loneliness may cause pain, but it can also lead to new insights. You can embrace the loneliness and turn it into something productive. Learn more about yourself and how to lead yourself through hard times. See these periods of loneliness as something positive, something that takes you even further in your personal and professional growth.

You can reach out to your network, create or strengthen your support group, get advice from top leaders, from an advisory board, from a coach / counsellor or a mastermind group. Don’t be afraid of the white spaces in your calendar, don't fill in this time with more social media, but learn to listen to the silence and become more creative through it.

Being a leader is a tough job. But at the same time, a very rewarding one. You lead people to somewhere they have never been and never dreamt of, you see the path ahead and you open the road for them. Own that role; they will admire you for that.

You are not alone

The name "Odysseus" comes from the word "odyssomai", which means being hated by gods and men, therefore being left alone to survive. Even if you are struggling by yourself, in the end, you will reach your Ithaca. If you find yourself in this position today as a leader, remember, though you may feel lonely… you’re not alone.

Are you a leader? How have you dealt with loneliness? Let us know in the comments!

Vassia  Sarantopoulou


Vassia Sarantopoulou

Vassia Sarantopoulou is a Counselor-Psychotherapist with more than 15 years of experience, the Head Psychologist and founder of AntiLoneliness. AntiLoneliness offers individual and couples counseling, workshops and support groups, in...

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Max Ga 06:55 | 14 February 2020

This article brings up a relevant issue, but the solution is wishful thinking. Leaders are not lonely, because they are leaders, it's because of being different, and people don't like different, that just how we are. There's a good video in YouTube about Conformity vs Confident or something like that.