Are you lonely at the top?
Isolation comes when leaders make unpopular choices, enforce difficult executive motions, balance ragged budgets or make risky solo decisions. At these times, leadership can seem like a forlorn and friendless wilderness.
A recent survey cited in The Harvard Business Review states “half of CEOs report experiencing feelings of loneliness in their role, and of this group, 61 percent believe it hinders their performance. First-time CEOs are particularly susceptible to this isolation. Nearly 70 percent of first-time CEOs who experience loneliness report that the feelings negatively affect their performance.”
As leaders, we can guard against any looming temptation to prefer seclusion. We must refuse to believe isolation is an essential ingredient our leadership role. This is a lie. We walk in truth when we choose to make intentional connections with our team an indispensable and an essential priority. Team relationships are not just good for leaders, these associations are needed for team vitality.
The Remedy for Loneliness
In the Lead Like Jesus Encounter, this concept is best explained in “The Hands: What Leaders Do” section. It’s how leaders choose to be answerable to the team they lead that provides the remedy to loneliness in leadership.
“Being confident of this, that he who began good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
- Start with Love
Jesus loved the team he led.
Jesus encouraged the disciples to join Him because He loved them. Jesus knew the power of a team. He saw potential in each of them as individuals. He chose them for service, patiently guiding them as they were transformed into fully equipped, inspired and spiritually grounded leaders able to fulfill the Great Commission. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12
Each of the disciples brought different personalities, cultural heritage, spiritual gifts and even differing ways of making a living to the team that Jesus built. Jesus was committed to loving them. When we, as leaders choose to love those we are leading, we will find our love for them grows. “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:1-2
- Commit to Vulnerability
Jesus lived with the team he led.
They knew each other very well. Imagine this group of weary travelers, after a two-week preaching stint across Bethany beyond the Jordan, arriving at the Motel 6 in Capernaum to rest up for a few days. Envision one of the disciples appointed to do laundry and somehow the entire wardrobe of Jesus and the disciples were misplaced in the process. Jesus’ upcoming teaching time at the synagogue had to be postponed because he had nothing to wear. Jesus’ response? Offering grace instead of guilt to the ‘laundry fail,’ thus expressed God’s love through his actions. Although this exact scene was not found anywhere in Scripture and the details might be fiction, we can relate to the challenges of life and take note of Jesus’ responses.
Wardrobe malfunctions aside, each day, before Jesus put on His outer garments, He put on His spiritual clothes through time with His Heavenly Father. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14
Maybe you don’t physically live with the team you lead, but I surmise you are with them more hours than your own biological family. Your team knows you. You’ve probably already experienced a “fake it ’til you make it” mentality does not work.
In leadership, refuse to pose the illusion that you have it all together. This is pride and will not only further isolate you but could polarize your team. Servant leaders should prefer transparency to hiding. Jesus was honest about His weaknesses. As explained in the Encounter, “He brought to His season of leadership a clear understanding of the journey from dependence to interdependence. There was nothing random about the life of Jesus, so there is nothing random about our lives either.”
Use every failure and foible you exhibit in front of your team as a servant leadership teaching opportunity.
“Lonely Leadership,” an insightful and descriptive article from Christianity Today says, “Perfection doesn’t breed intimacy–authenticity does. I began to risk looking weak, immature, and ignorant in many areas of life, including areas of leadership. Being honest about my weaknesses, my needs, and moments of desperation actually draws others near, giving them permission to take their masks off too.”
- Work at Unity
Jesus was accountable to the team He led.
Jesus’ teaching and leading style began by noticing those He would call into ministry. Jesus knew He needed a team. Matthew 4:18-22 says, “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’”
No man is an island. Jesus knew His men would stay focused on the work as He laid the groundwork for the ministry through training. In the LLJ Encounter, “The Hands: What Leaders Do” section discusses the learning stages for The Way of the Carpenter.
There are four areas where Lead Like Jesus leaders become performance coaches resulting in team harmony and agreement. This type of collaboration encourages responsibility for the leader to stay open to the needs and direction of the team.
- In the first step, Jesus provided His novices basic information: what, how, where, when and why, to instruct them in the way of the carpenter.
- In the second step: apprentice, someone in training, Jesus coached them to develop by instruction, practice and evaluation.
- By the third step: journeyman, through mentoring and encouragement, the learner is now capable of working independently.
- In the final step, the leader sees his trainee become someone now able to teach others. Now a master/teacher, this person can operate autonomously and affirm those they are leading. Jesus exhibited the master/teacher principle as he passed on the responsibility the Heavenly Father had given to Him. Jesus commissioned them as master/teachers. Unity is a natural by-product of this process because of the ideal leader/follower relationship. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3:23
What Are You Waiting For?
“The two best friends of execution are simplicity and transparency,” said Chris McChesney at the 2016 Global Leadership Summit. Servant leaders who start with love, commit to vulnerability and work at unity will find they are no longer lonely.
Their team will be cohesive, effective and function like a well-oiled machine. Projects to which the team puts their hands will flow with ease and grace because the leader desires to bring out the best in the individual team members. Servant leader will not allow themselves to be in isolation, nor will they entertain loneliness or a sulky solitude.
The leader and the team need each other to accomplish the work they are called to do.
The time is short. What are you waiting for?
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20