Lonely at the Top


            A common saying in the business world is: “it is lonely at the top.”   Stop and think about it.  Who helps you see the blind spots?  Who gives you honest feedback?  Who is willing to disagree with you?  Who will ask you the right questions to help you process a decision or a problem?  I have been where you are.  I know how lonely it can be.

            It is difficult to place a monetary value on having someone you can turn to who will help you eliminate that empty feeling of loneliness.  Maybe you have an assistant who you trust and share some information with at times.  However, can you be totally open with this person about your innermost thoughts?  Can you share your deepest worries and concerns about the business with them?  Most likely, not.

            An article in the Harvard Business Review reported that 50% of CEO’s reported feeling lonely at work.  And, about 60% believed the feeling of being alone hindered their performance.  For first-time CEO’s the numbers in both areas were 70%.  Being at the top can easily result in being isolated and becoming out of touch with the business.  If you are isolated, how do you really lead, motivate, develop people, innovate, evaluate and assess needs for individuals and the business, and manage productivity and profitability?  Let me answer for you.  You don’t.

            If you feel lonely, and even isolated, it can lead to poor decision-making, inept problem-solving, frustration, dysfunctional teams and team members, not to mention the internal stress that builds and builds and eventually causes negative behavior, or even major health issues.  Why?  As the CEO, President, or Business Owner, you receive less feedback and information, and the information is filtered.  Jack and Suzy Welch wrote this in an article in their Business Week column: “There’s something about being a boss that incontrovertibly lends itself to isolation.  It’s as if every natural force is working to protect you from reality.  Good news travels up fast, but bad news festers in the trenches where those who possess it hope they can make it go away before anyone notices.”

            Do loneliness and isolation have to be an inevitable part of your leadership?  No.  There are things you can do to reduce the risk of isolation. 

            First, how about your walk with the Lord?  Who in the Body of Christ do you turn to on a regular basis, one who encourages you to love and trust God more?  It is written in Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV): “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  Sounds simple enough.  Your relationship with the Lord makes all the difference.

            For several years I served as the CEO/Superintendent of public school districts.  I was dealing with the public, elected officials, union members, thousands of employees, thousands of young lives and their parents, special interest groups, court decisions and legal issues, and all the politics that went with it.  Believe me, in that scenario you can feel very lonely and isolated.  Here is what I did to reduce loneliness and isolation and I offer these ideas for your consideration.


  • Developing and building my relationship with Jesus, putting
    my trust in Him by being in prayer and the Word.
  • Every day I was out in the organization and the community,
    speaking with people, asking lots of questions and getting to know as
    many as I possibly could on a one-to-one basis.
  • I set and was clear with everyone about my boundaries
    and expectations, as well as my values.
  • I made it a priority to get people involved in processes;
    decision-making, problem-solving, communication, and training.  I
    made sure we put decision-making at the knowledge base.
  • I worked closely with my direct reports, setting clear
    and achievable goals, conducting regular and consistent performance
    reviews, and developing a mentoring relationship, using Jesus as a
    personal role model.
  • I made it a priority to meet with every department
    once a month in order to listen to them and their concerns, as well
    as to share information with them.  I learned so much!


            In his book, Understanding People, Dr. Larry Crabb wrote on page 117; “Jesus offers us deep, thorough, lasting satisfaction that affirms our identity and at the same time frees us from self-centeredness.”  And, let me add, by building relationships as shown by Jesus, so goes your loneliness and isolation!