3 Ways to Stop Being Lonely at the Top

If you are, or ever have been involved in a leadership capacity, you may relate to feeling lonely. It’s not a simple social-disconnect loneliness, it’s more about carrying a weight of responsibility that you feel the people around you can’t relate to.


Worse than unrelatable, at times it would be impossible – even inappropriate – to share your concerns with the people you lead. These concerns may be about the business at hand and include potentially negative impacts to your employees and/or others that they are connected with, such as the need for corporate downsizing or behavioral correction.

Delivering loneliness in epic proportion, is the fear of vulnerability and weakness – especially when you know that you are struggling in some area that others are not aware of.

Chemical addiction is only one of the many forms of addiction. Addiction begins in coping with life, but ironically it eventually becomes one of the more difficult things to cope with. It always leads to isolation and loneliness. A double irony for leaders is that chemical or other addictions might have begun as coping mechanisms to deal with feelings of isolation or loneliness at the top.
Isolation is loneliness, but isolation has nothing to do with whether or not people surround you. It also has little to do with whether or not you are connected with those people. Loneliness arises as a perception of being unknown and/or unaccepted by others. The irony about loneliness at the top is that it becomes a self-imposed prison, and delivers a sentence of isolation. This works to limit your performance and to deliver collateral damage to you–and your family and friends.

As a leader this isolation robs us of the capacity we need to draw from in being resilient, and in ensuring resilience in the organizations we lead. If you have had enough of feeling lonely at the top, here are 3 suggestions:

  1. Face it. Face the fear of rejection – you are likely living the consequence (isolation) of this fear already. Any chance at personal freedom is worth the risk of perceived rejection.
  2. Connect. Connect with a trusted confidant to begin to open up to. Just speaking your fear has a way of disabling it. However – ensure that this person has experience in the areas you wrestle with. I have had lots of advice over the years, but much of it was more harmful than helpful. It is invaluable to have an open and honest dialogue with someone who truly understands the dilemma you face, has been there before, and knows the path to resilience and back to fulfilling performance.
  3. Establish and work an individual recovery program. This is not as dramatic and unusual as it might sound. In his book Addictions and Grace, Gerald May, MD, states that to be human is to be addicted, and that we are all addicts in every sense of the word. “To be alive is to be addicted and to be alive and addicted is to stand in need of grace”.

As leaders,we are tasked with the responsibility of making the best decisions on behalf of others. We need our full capacity to do this. To obtain our full capacity we need grace, especially grace for ourselves.

In case you are wondering whether or not you are addicted (aka: truly human), you might find resonance with one (likely several) of the list of nearly 200 addictions that May lists. I managed to find several. I am incredibly blessed with the people that I have chosen to journey life with, as they help me to experience grace in ways that expand my resilience and increase my capacity.

If you would like to experience this grace, and relief from loneliness at the top, reach out. Loneliness can only exist when you allow it.