Leadership is one of the hardest things a person can do professionally. There’s no manual, no playbook, no cliff notes that give leaders the ‘secret sauce’ to successfully lead the charge. Sure there are thousands of avenues one could go to learn more about leadership however at the end of the day it’s still a job that mainly rests on intangible actions like care, empathy, intuition and respect for the very people leaders serve.
Leading is often described as a lonely experience. Elisabeth Elliott, a famous author, speaker and missionary once said “Loneliness is a required course for leadership.” The feeling of loneliness at the top is much more common than most of us realize as more than 50% of leaders indicate they have experienced loneliness at one point or another in their career. The stats are even higher for first time leaders at a whopping 70%.
When leaders experience solitary the impacts can be devastating. Isolation and loneliness have a direct negative affect on a leaders’ performance which then directly impacts their employees, departments, business units and companies.
How is it then leaders find themselves down in the dumps on lonely island? Some of the most common causes are:
1. Forced Isolation- Leaders seclude themselves from the rest of the group by working in an office which can create imaginary barriers between them and their staff. Closing the door actually creates a real barrier that communicates “I’m not available and don’t have time for you”. Regardless if this isolation was intentional or unintentional it produces the same results where the leaders’ staff hesitate to communicate with their boss, or not at all.
2. Decision Making- In most businesses decision making is typically left to the people carrying the torch. When decisions go well all is good in the world yet when decisions produce less then spectacular results the leader is left out in the cold to take the brunt of the responsibility. It’s part of the job but it can also produce isolation at a whole new level which isn’t typically understood or felt by the company’s employees.
3. Don’t Ask For Help- Many times isolation is self-inflicted as leaders don’t ask for help from their teams or peers. There’s an unspoken feeling for many leaders which goes something like, “they expect me to know everything because that’s what I get paid for and why I’m in the job”. Thoughts like this can be incredibly damaging and certainly have no justifiable basis for being correct or healthy.
4. Lack Humility- When leaders act in a way which broadcasts ‘I’m more important than you because I’m in a leadership role’ employees quickly disengage, refraining from putting effort in to build relationships with their leaders or working hard on their behalf. When leaders act this way many times it can be attributed to ego or overcompensating for a lack of confidence.
5. Poor Treatment of Others- One of the quickest ways a leader can find themselves on lonely island is by treating their employees or staff in a poor manner. They lack emotional intelligence. (EQ) When employees feel like they aren’t valued or respected they withdraw which commonly leads to limited interaction and feedback with leadership. The result is a drift occurs in the organization between what leadership wants and what employees are doing.
Let’s be clear here, we aren’t about to throw a pity party for our leaders. They’re grown ups right, big boys and big girls who have made the choice to enter leadership on their own accord. So if they’re feeling isolated or lonely than it’s by their own doing, right?
While we’d all love to think the statement above is accurate the reality is that employees do in fact have some ownership in the leadership isolation situation. Employees have a unique ability to see things their leaders don’t, hear things their leaders don’t and help in situations where their leaders would otherwise be clueless about.
These five options when implemented help to foster an environment of support and mutual respect, one in which both leader and employee benefits from:
When leaders and employees work together and support one another it significantly reduces the likelihood people of any kind will experience isolation.
“There is no respect for others without humility in one's self.” - Henri Frederic Amiel
Key Take Away:
If you’re feeling lonely as a leader chances are it’s a result of your own doing. Sorry to hit you with the brutal honesty. Loneliness in leadership impacts more people than just yourself. One of the best ways to overcome it is to join a peer group or get a leadership mentor/ coach.
Feeling like you’re on lonely island right about now? Select two people from your company, one of which needs to be a direct report, and ask them for their candid feedback. Start by telling them how you’re feeling and your desire to do something about it. Get vulnerable and ask for their help while creating an environment where people feel comfortable telling you how they perceive you and your presence as a leader. After you receive the feedback – SHUT UP! Don’t argue about it, don’t disagree. Just listen, observe and take it all in. Thank the person for their feedback and take the rest of the day to smolder on it. With time and patience, you will begin to open yourself up to hearing other people’s perspectives while learning how to take their words and incorporate it into a new you. Now, go get em, champ!
This week we discuss the reasons behind why so many of us wait to lead, how we can recognize our abilities to lead by addressing our fears and how to transition successfully into a leader without the need for a management job title
When was the last time your team, or company for that matter, delivered a project or product on time?
Sounds like an easy and obvious question to answer however the reality would surprise you.
Failure to deliver the goods, on time and to expectation, happens much more than most of us realize. In fact, we’ve become accustom to our expectations not being met, so much so that we barely even notice it anymore.
UPS and FedEx are heralded as two of the best shipping and freight companies globally. The two combined do more than 24 million daily shipments on average. That’s a lot of Amazon orders. Did you know that a combined 19% of those packages don’t make it to their designation on time, or at all? That’s 4.5 million packages miss the mark, EVERY DAY!
You may be thinking, “Why should I care about what happens at FedEx, after all I don’t work there.”
Missing deadlines, or delivering the proverbial goods late, is more than just a shipping issue, it’s a global business issue and frankly it’s very bad for business.
When we miss deadlines, or customer expectations for that matter, we experience all sorts of negative exposure, including:
When UPS or FedEx misses a delivery or puts a package back in que which should have already been delivered the ripple effect created for that driver and route can impact an entire days’ worth of work, or more.
Same thing can be said for our customers. We got a call two weeks ago from a customer asking for help on a project of theirs which had already missed its deadline. Our customer, was two weeks past due on their product delivery date for their respective customer. Needless to say their customer was less then enthused. In fact, every day they fell behind in shipping their product they lost 11k USD in billable revenue.
With costs surmounting quickly eating into their profit margin their customer also became wary of their ability to execute as they had hoped and expected. Phone calls between the two companies became increasingly frequent with the client becoming increasingly upset. Threats of the white-collar kind became a start to each call.
Not a good position to be in. [thanks Captain Obvious]
Our customer asked us to bring a team in and offload some of their work, mostly protocol and process related, so they could focus all their efforts in satisfying the commitment they made to their customer. Our team was to alleviate the bottleneck of work they were experiencing so other internal projects wouldn’t keep backing up as they had already begun to do. Once the bottleneck begins its incredibly challenging to get out of that rhythm and back on track without extra help.
These types of moments are highly intense and stressful. One of the things our customer did with their end customer, which I found to be of high integrity and good professionalism, is they painstakingly told their customer what had happened to make them fall behind, apologized and took ownership for the failure to deliver and immediately shared with the customer their course of action to solve the problem. While their customer was rather upset along the way they did acknowledge the apology and things seemed to get underway shortly thereafter.
The product ultimately was delivered 3 ½ weeks late of schedule costing our customer close to quarter of a million dollars in missed revenue. Tough lesson to learn on the importance of hitting deadlines and meeting expectations.
Key Take Away:
A wise person once said, “sh** happens”. A profound statement to say the least yet certainly true. Sometimes things do happen that are out of our control, taking ownership of the situation and asking for help can be the best two decisions we can make in these moments.
Don’t decide to ask for help when you’re already in hot water. If you’re watching your project timelines begin to slip immediately put in a plan of attack to lean on your suppliers for help. If your relationship with your customer is on good footing still you can try to proactively ask for an extension on the delivery date with the hopes that will provide some cushion to get work done on time. Note – don’t get in the habit of asking for deadline extensions. Once is fine, but to ask that of a customer often signals your company is unorganized and lacks leadership to meet it’s obligations.
In need of someone to help you climb out of your project bottlenecks? Contact Square-1 Engineering at www.square1engineering.com to learn how we can help your solve your biggest engineering and technical business challenges.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.