Ten years ago, I had the pleasure of attending Tony Hsieh’s SHRM keynote address in Las Vegas. I remember leaving his session motivated, inspired, and ready to wait in line for him to autograph my copy of Delivering Happiness

He talked about creating an environment of inclusion, value, and connectedness at Zappos. He had achieved an incredible level of success, and at such a young age, seemed to have management and relationship development techniques to spare!

As I reflect on that presentation and contrast those memories with media’s most recent images of him, speculating the tragic and disconnected circumstances surrounding his final days, I continue to feel a deep sadness that the business community lost not only a visionary leader, but a radiant, vibrant soul that had the power to connect with over 18,000 HR practitioners in the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Much has been written about the loneliness that plagues leaders who sit at the very top of their organizations. Being the boss and having to make and take responsibility for the toughest decisions makes it difficult to also be a friend to others in the organization. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt plagues influential leaders as easily as it plagues “regular folks” – the primary difference being CEOs and C-suiters can’t afford (or often do not feel comfortable) sharing those feelings within the organization. Even if there is a Board to share the burden, it is still a heavy one. 

So how can leaders combat feelings of loneliness at the top?
(These are universal strategies, by the way; use them regardless of the location of your “office”.)

  • Seek the help of a mental health professional
  • Turn to a spiritual leader or mentor for moral support, where a judgement-free zone awaits
  • Give someone a gift by reaching out to them for help; in that process you show them you trust them enough to see the cracks in your armor
  • Talk with people who are sources of wisdom, strength, and perspective
  • Enlist the services of an executive coach. Coaches are invaluable for helping leaders achieve greater balance in life, while still accomplishing and finding meaning in business and organizational goals.

If 2020/21 has taught us anything, it’s taught us not to underestimate the value of connection. 

Regardless of “status”, make it a priority to have someone in your corner, whose sole purpose is to be with you (or Zoom with you) when you’re tackling the “hard stuff”.

As an aside, I wrote this TPF prior to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Kudos to Simone Biles for demonstrating the importance of taking care of one’s mental health, strength in conviction, and resilience at the highest level, on the world’s most competitive stage.