Feeling Alone in Leadership
CEO Joan sits in front of me: “Now that I am in this corner office, I see and hear less from people.” She describes “walk arounds” and distance from colleagues who called her friend before she became CEO. “I send out emails now with ideas and questions and…I get ‘crickets’ back.”
With her head in her hands, she describes a vision for herself she set earlier in her career – of leading a team of talented people who worked and had thoughtful discussions with each other. Now, she states, this feels like a foolish, far off dream. Her gut wrenches when she looks at her team. Perhaps people are having discussions, and just not including her in them. How would she know? They’re smiling at her like they used to but are not talking to her, so she can’t quite tell what they’re thinking.
Leadership can be a lonely road. The weight of the crown of responsibility begins to wear on the neck. When the head is heavy – soon the backbone gives a bit as well. Yet big decisions await her.
Sitting across from her, as her Leadership coach, I am glad that Joan is letting her guard down and sharing her biggest challenges, I can sense the burden of these leadership responsibilities she faces.
I ask Joan to sit up a little taller in her seat. To close her eyes and take a few deep belly breaths. Gently I ask her to put her hand over heart and inhale and exhale fully a few more times. I ask her— “What’s the first thing that comes into your mind?”
“I’m screwed.” She says. We both laugh, knowing that this is her fear talking.
Using the advice and research of Amy Cuddy in her TED talk, “Your body language may shape who you are”, I ask her to stand, put her arms out in a “V” for victory stance, open her eyes wide and say “Yes!”.
As she does this I say, “Now what are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking…” She pauses.
“I want to lead this company. I believe in our mission and the talents of the people I have hired and assembled.”
“That feels good”, she says.
What happened, I ask, to cause this shift?
She responds, “Once I stood up my back felt stronger and my breath came easier. Yeah, I can breathe deeper, and my mind feels clearer.”
I asked her if the breath and the new posture made her mind shift at bit. With arms still over her head, she let out a long breath.
Fascinating, as I sit and watch Joan, I am reminded of the words to a song by James Taylor, our modern-day troubadour, —That Lonesome Road
Walk down that lonesome road all by yourself
Don’t turn your head back over your shoulder
And only stop to rest yourself
When the silver moon is shining high above the trees
I share this with Joan, speaking the verses out loud. She admits how this really hits home. Why is this such a lonely road, I ask? Joan looks at me and states, “I don’t know…”
She sits in her chair behind her desk…more thoughtfully now. “What are the other verses?” She asks. I respond with:
If I had stopped to listen once or twice
If I had closed my mouth and opened my eyes
If I had cooled my head and warmed my heart
I’d not be on this road tonight
“Sometimes I get too much in my head and don’t listen, watch or ask.” She admitted, “I need to find opportunities to connect with the people in this company.”
“How might you start to do that?”
Now staring out the window, Joan muses, “I don’t know the last time I sat with one of the staff members and told them how much I appreciated them and their work. It’s usually about me giving them orders or asking them to complete tasks.”
Sharing another line from the end of the song – I spoke it out-loud to Joan:
Carry on, never mind feeling sorry for yourself
It doesn’t save you from your troubled mind
Joan throws her head back and laughs. “Yes, no more getting lost in my troubled thoughts. Now I wonder, what is my part in creating this isolation that I feel? Am I keeping myself from connecting with the people in my company? Now that I think of it, I wait for them to come to me. I don’t take the time to get out of this corner office box and get to know them.”
Smiling at Joan, I noticed her head stood taller. There was a knock on the door, Joan immediately smiled and said with a bright voice, “Come on in…”