From Brian Chesky and Tim Cook to the founder of shoe company Toms, it’s lonely at the top. Here’s why it’s important and how to feel more connected

While success has its obvious perks, it certainly doesn’t exclude you from it loneliness epidemic. We idealize our drive to get to the top, but there’s an underlying struggle that many corporate leaders grapple with when perspective doesn’t go hand in hand with a sense of connection and belonging. A 2022 survey from Deloitte company found a third of the c-suite felt lonely. Researchers estimate that the vast majority – 70% – of executives consider leaving their jobs partly due to feelings of loneliness and poor health.

Ryan Jenkins, author of the book “CEOs can always be surrounded by people but still feel lonely.” Connectable: How leaders can move teams from isolation to focustell Luck in an email interview. After all, the higher you climb the corporate ladder, the more responsibility and stress falls on your shoulders when making decisions as an individual rather than as a team.

Even the CEOs of some of the most prestigious companies admit that sitting at the top is an isolating experience. The founder of the famous buy-one-get-one-free shoe company Toms, Blake Mycoskie, struggled with depression and loneliness amid the great success of his company. Apple’s Tim Cook says being CEO is a “lonely job,” and Airbnb’s Brian Chesky frequently says his promotion only makes him lonelier.

“I start from the front, at the top of the mountain, but the higher you get to the top, the fewer people there are with you,” Chesky told Jay Shetty in an episode of right purpose last year. “No one told me how lonely it would be.”

Loneliness in room C is not a new phenomenon. In 2012 Luck In the interview, Thomas Saporito, former president and CEO of RHR International, said: “The notion that being at the top is lonely is more than just a cliché. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and have talked to over 200 CEOs – there are precious few people who, in our private discussions, don’t talk about loneliness.”

Experts say tackling loneliness at the top can have a profound impact—improving people’s physical and mental health—and strengthening the happiness and engagement of employees always look to their leaders for guidance.

How to fight loneliness at work

See loneliness as a “signal”

Often, leaders avoid addressing feelings of doubt and uncertainty, which can make them feel lonely.

“When people are faced with a problem with too many unknowns, they often withdraw and isolate themselves rather than seek the advice they need,” said Carter Cast, former CEO of, cited in Jenkins’ book. “People were scared and retreated. The loneliest thing I’ve ever experienced was when I was managing on a large scale and I didn’t know if I was doing it right. I don’t know who I can talk to.”

However, if a leader feels lonely, experts recommend sharing their experiences—especially work challenges—with a partner, mentor, or expert.

“Loneliness is not shameful; it’s a signal,” says Jenkins, who is working to create creative ways to improve employee connection and engagement, including practicing emotional vulnerability. contact. “CEOs should not be ashamed of loneliness but rather use it as an innate reminder that their influential presence matters to others.”

Move from manager to leader

While pervasive loneliness at the top can stem from fear and uncertainty about business decisions, it can also stem from not knowing how to lead people who look up to you . According to a 2013 survey by the organization, nearly two-thirds of CEOs receive no coaching or leadership advice from people outside their organization. Stanford; Even before reaching the C-Suite, new managers are rarely trained to be leaders.

“New managers don’t realize what they’re about to take on,” says Dr. Rich Safeer, medical director of employee health and well-being at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Luck. “Most companies do not prepare a new manager in advance.” According to a survey released this summer from Spring Health, only 33% of managers feel able to support their employees’ mental health. And yet, research shows that a boss can play a more important role in an employee’s mental health than a therapist.

When leaders see their teams holistically, they prioritize connection, combat their own loneliness, and help others feel a sense of community.

While leadership training is important, Safeer said leaders can also support their employees by creating space to get to know their team. They can organize office hours to be accessible and show interest in people’s lives inside and outside of work. After all, there are more people to find people-centered Supportive and involved leaders.

“Leaders need to start improving their relationships with the people they lead,” Safeer said, including being more transparent about their wins and challenges. “They need to be better listeners. They need to become more vulnerable and share their challenges. They need to show more appreciation.”

Men, in particular, face stereotypical conditions surrounding emotional vulnerability. However, many executives attended all-men’s retreatFor example, they said they felt connected to others when they shared their feelings and talked about life beyond their successes.

“People aren’t used to seeing courageous leaders open up and I think it’s just a breath of fresh air,” said Craig White, founder of Men don’t wear masksa UK-based retreat previously mentioned Luck. “When I saw it, it enabled everyone in the organization to be able to do the same thing.”

Reconnect with friends out of job

Like everyone, corporate leaders need room to be vulnerable with support from friends. “So much of my life has been about success… I think that will make people love me,” Chesky told Shetty in the podcast.

Former President Barack Obama, Chesky’s longtime adviser, helped him realize the driving force behind his discontent outside the office.

“I think you’re a little lonely and maybe you need to renew your friendship,” Chesky recalled Obama telling him in a 2021 conversation. Chesky said the former president was able to maintain 10 to 15 relationships contacts, many of whom he had relationships with before taking office.

“They kept him grounded and rooted, and your roots come from the past and your past is often your relationships,” Chesky said. “It’s hard to lose your mind when you have deep relationships and connections… I realized I wasn’t maintaining relationships.”

Maintaining friendships as we age is not an easy and comfortable walk in the park. ONE AARP survey found that nearly half of people over 50 said it was difficult to keep friends.

Marc Schulz, co-author of the book A good life and associate director of Harvard Adult Development Studies, previously said Luck. “Some people wake up and realize that they really need to rebuild their friendships…a lot of their social relationships may revolve around work or just revolve around other activities that their children enjoy. what they do.”

A CEO’s influence is a privilege, and how they combat loneliness is integral to improving their wellbeing and the health of the organization.


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