Come out of this psychological loneliness for a thriving career
Sitting at her desk, Kate ponders over her next meeting. She is not comfortable with the recommendations she is about to make although everyone else seems to approve, to her they seem a little drastic compared to the situation. Kate thinks that if she shares her apprehensions, she will surely be told not to be so “sensitive”. Kate also realises that she would not know HOW to say it without sounding negative towards the company or some colleagues, and you don’t want to sound negative, do you?
Kate takes off her glasses and rubs her eyes … how many hours and energy lost in this internal dialogue, if only there were people she trusted and with whom to discuss these topics in all honesty, without fear of being labelled “sensitive” or whatever else. But there are none and anyway isn’t it the lot of the manager? The higher you go, the more alone you are, you may as well get used to it. Kate picks up her files, gets up and heads for the meeting room … whoopee-doo
Kate is a manager and Kate feels alone.
She works in an office that houses more than 300 people, she leads a team of more than 20 people, direct and indirect. And that’s without counting her peers in other services.
The loneliness Kate experiences is not physical. Like many managers, Kate is surrounded by people: colleagues, collaborators, senior managers. Managers like Kate are also in high demand: meeting, brainstorm, 1: 1, conference … “unloneliness” guaranteed!
Some will say (as I do too) that loneliness is beneficial: taking a step back, thinking about strategic ideas for our organisations is crucial. Taking a step back contributes enormously to the self-awareness that is essential to developing one’s leadership. Long live loneliness … yes, but: a loneliness that is chosen and programmed to suit us.
So where does this feeling of loneliness come from?
I chose to look at 3 reasons that seem to me to be the most common and important:
The lack of alignment:
Between my personal values and those of my organisation there is a clash. Every day I make decisions, I perform actions that are like little sharp cuts into my values. First I did try to change things, I “got involved” as they say but nothing did change. Today, I look the other way, think of my new car, my next holiday whilst telling myself that’s just adult life. Of course there is no way I would share this feeling with anyone at work, They’d think I’m weird and, more importantly, I could kiss my hope for promotion goodbye.
The fear of coming across as vulnerable:
If I share my doubts, my questions, my fears, it will destabilise my team, I need to be strong for them, they need to feel that their manager knows what he/she is doing and has all the answers. If I share my doubts, my questions, my fears, I am vulnerable. My peers, my managers would not be able to trust me. I must send a strong image, flawless. That’s the reason I was put in this role, because I have the answers. If I do not have all the answers, am I legitimate in my role?
The feeling of not having the “right” people to share with:
I am open to sharing with others, put my questions on the table, receive feedback from people who have had similar experiences, suggestions from people who come from different horizons. But I cannot do this internally, it could create controversy, I’m not 100% confident that confidentiality would be respected. And to be honest I’d rather have a change of scenery! I hear about mentoring, ok but where do I find this mentor?
This feeling of loneliness affects many levels irrespective of hierarchy and, ironically, the CEOs of this world have understood it and are more likely to have a coach or participate in masterminds.
How do we fight this feeling of loneliness as a manager?
Let’s do it step by step.
Firstly, do I feel lonely? If you feel supported, challenged and it helps you move forward, all is well. Keep it up and use your moments of solitude to reflect on your role, your team, the business and how to develop them.
1 / You feel a lack of alignment with your values
Clarify your personal values, list them in order of priority. You have trouble identifying your values? Look at some of the books or works of art that have had a lasting impact. What was their message? Why did you relate? Also, look at recent events or situations in your work, what does your reaction highlight about your values?
Then write down the values and mission / vision of your organisation.
Compare – Do you find there is an overlap between the 2? a little bit? a lot ? not at all ?
Before we move forward I’ll ask for a favour? Do a double-check of your 2 lists to check for any influence that could blur your vision and make you bitterly regret your hastiness once you’ve left the company: the influence of colleagues (you know, these watercooler conversations, full of criticism and sterile gossip) I know you are a great leader but we can all fall into the trap! Or think of the “Karpmann Triangle”: replay these events that you see as examples of your lack of alignment, were you “playing” the role of the victim, the villain or the saviour, be honest with yourself, no one needs to know!
Done? So I will continue.
You have a lot of values in common. Great ! maybe a heavy workload or some unfortunate events have made you lose sight of your “why”. Some difficult conversations may be required with some individuals or boundaries reset but the essence, what is important is there and that’s what matters.
You are not at all aligned with the mission / values of your company? hmm, you already know what I’m going to say, don’t you? Before that I’ll ask for 2 things (yes I know I ask a lot!):
Self-indulgence: no, you’re not stupid to have chosen this company, maybe at the time you were aligned and one of them changed. No, you are not a spoiled child, maybe you never looked at your values before or were not fully aware how important they were.
Be prepared to mourn this chapter in your professional life. Be grateful for the learning opportunities that you have had – even if they were painful. Be proud of what you have brought to this organisation – now now, no sarcasm please. And relish the relationships you’ve formed and that you will keep during your professional life, and beyond.
And now, CV, LinkedIn … Go!
Your 2 lists are more or less aligned. Let me ask: are you the type of person who answers “no opinion” in the polls? or always give a mark between 5 and 6 when asked for a mark out of 10?
Then go back to your lists and put some heart into, some intuition and opinion please. Otherwise, I’m sorry to tell you that your professional life will be as good as reheated frozen cottage pie: blah and with the risk of a tummy ache.
You’ve reviewed your lists and the conclusion is still “a little”?
- Look at the prioritisation of your values and that of your company, do you give the same level of importance to the same values?
- Is it your role rather than the organisation itself with which you feel out of alignment?
- Are you possibly getting the issue of misalignment and a skill or other specific issue mixed up?
- Do you have a need for training so you can feel more in control and serene in your role?
- Is there a specific challenge with a person or situation that you need to solve? Speak with your manager or HR contact.
2 / You’re concerned about coming across as vulnerable
Ah ego ego ego … you often make us do or believe silly things!
Our need to appear strong, intelligent, dynamic [add the adjective of your choice] makes us shoot ourselves in the foot: additional work, unnecessary stress, real danger of making the wrong decision… So now is the time to be totally honest with yourself: Is your current loneliness the consequence of your fear of appearing weak? Of the impostor’s syndrome? Of competition between colleagues?
Let me tell you something: they know. Yes, they know. Your questions, your doubts, it’s obvious, your non-verbal behaviour betrayed you a long time ago. You can test it for yourself: observe your colleagues, no need to be “mentalist” to feel the difference between WHAT they say and HOW they say it.
In these situations I suggest to be methodical: Do the facts support your point of view? List the facts (not the perceptions) that support that you are not legitimate, that you do not have the skills, that your colleagues think you are not right for this role? Is the list very long? No? That’s what I thought.
Let’s continue: List the facts that contradict your perception of “weakness”? the feedback, annual review, goal achievement that confirms that you are entirely legitimate. Let me guess? There are several items on this list?!
I am being facetious but this is an important point and I suggest you stick to the “facts” in your moments of doubt. You will notice that often our ego, in its desire to protect us, locks us in a prison of doubt where we play out a made-up disaster scenario on a loop.
So you are afraid to appear vulnerable or illegitimate by sharing your doubts? What is the worst that can happen? You say the wrong thing? Then what? Is this really a good reason to live in this prison of doubt and loneliness?
3 / You feel you do not have the right people around you
It’s both the easiest and the most delicate
I suggest you put your preconceived ideas about your colleagues to one side. They are not better / less good than you, they have not less / more doubts than you … The best way to figure it out is to start a dialogue. Invite 2 or 3 people to lunch and start a conversation on topics that interest you and see who joins in. Organise informal meetings on a topic (well-being in the workplace, CSR, zero waste …) and see who participates. Create relationships and go beyond the superficial so that your conversations become challenging, helping and allow you and them to move forward and grow.
If you are 100% sure there is no one in your company to develop these relationships with then you may want to explore the mentoring option. A few tips: do not just ask the person of your choice to be your mentor, especially if you do not know them because the answer will certainly be no. Start conversation, ask a question, offer to help (on a project or if this person participates in “non-profit” projects outside of work). Through this dialogue your “mentor” will get to know you and you will see if the chemistry is right. Do not be obsessed with making this relationship “official”, maybe the word mentor will never be uttered but you will have learnt enormously from your exchanges and that was all the mentoring you needed.
Know that you can also work with a professional mentor, for example, I mentor women in management and executive roles so they “uplevel” into leadership roles.
Talk to your HR contact. Some companies are part of professional associations that allow you to meet other professionals who share your interests and are not in your organisation.
If you’d rather not go the internal route there a number of professional organisations which organise meet-ups / conferences and workshops. As a woman, why not meet the members of your local Lean In Circle?
Still not what you are looking for? You want to be supported and challenged outside of your company and in a confidential environement? I suggest you work with a Coach, a coaching relationship will enable you to clarify your professional objectives and move forward towards these objectives. If you prefer group dynamics, find a mastermind or peer group. A mastermind is based on the sharing of knowledge, constructive feedback and support in a safe and confidential environment. If you’re a French speaker I invite you to join the mastermind I lead 😉 for women executives to develop their leadership for more balance and success in their career.
In conclusion, the loneliness of the manager is a reality for many whatever the reason.
It is clear it causes suffering and hinders the development of both the individual and the company. And it is important to realise that there are solutions as outlined some in this article.
I invite you to take a moment to reflect on this topic and, if you feel impacted, to take the first step to get out of this straitjacket that makes your daily life stressful, demotivating and empty.
Finally, if you believe that a colleague experiences this loneliness, show compassion: a phrase, a bit of humour to loosen the tongue and that allows him to take out this straitjacket that they feel obliged to wear. Would you not you like them to do the same for you?
I would love to hear your feedback, suggestions or questions on this topic
Important: The loneliness of the manager that I describe is different from depression, if you think you are affected by the symptoms of depression I invite you to contact your doctor.