It’s Lonely at the Top: Dealing with Isolation as a Leader


by Don Smith

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Have you ever felt isolated as a small business owner, CEO, or leader?

If so, you're not alone.

Half of the CEO's surveyed in a study published in The Harvard Business Review reported feelings of loneliness in their roles. More than two out of three first-time CEO's who reported loneliness also felt like it was bad enough to impact their performance.

I've felt this sense of isolation myself at many times in my life. Here are a few things that I've found that helped me.

3 Steps to Resolving Isolation as a Leader

1. Acknowledge It

The first step to resolving any problem is to acknowledge that it is a problem. It is quite common to feel isolated as a leader.

Like it or not, when you move into a management role, you're less likely to get invited to hang out with your team. There aren't too many people who will invite their boss to a party on Friday night, and even if they do, it is probably a good idea to keep a little bit of professional distance. If you take the initiative and ask those who report to you to go to an event you host, they can view it as an obligation rather than a fun time, because who wants to tell their boss no?

2. Get Involved in External Groups

The leadership role fades to the background when you get involved in outside activities. I play soccer, help out at church, know several people at the gym, meet with other small business owners and friends over breakfast, and am part of a few different community organizations. All of those are opportunities for me to build relationships outside of work. Find some local groups doing things you enjoy and start participating, or if you can't find a group doing what you want to do, create one.

3. Focus on a Few Friendships

One of the mistakes I've made in the past is trying to meet everyone, which translates into getting to know no one. It's like my Twitter account; I've got thousands of followers, but am only close with a handful of them.

Get intentional about this, find someone that you have a few common interests with, and spend some time with that person. Focus on quality over quantity, and on being a good friend by going the extra mile for those people. Do that regularly, and I think you'll find yourself a little less isolated this time next year.

About the Author 

Don Smith

Happily married with five kids, Smith owns a technology company, is the founder of this site, has served on the board of directors for multiple companies, and loves playing soccer, hiking, and mentoring.

  1. Excellent advice Don. I’ve not been a CEO but these tips also apply for an established blogger, with a pretty high number of people following my blog, guest posts, etc. Make a few close friends, be active in groups and own the feeling of loneliness, as the starting point.

    1. I think it applies in many areas Ryan. Seems like the more “connected” we get the worse the problem becomes. Chasing numbers certainly isn’t the answer.

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