Leadership Truth: It’s Lonely At The Top


If there is a problem, I’ll let you know. Otherwise, if you don’t hear from me, no news is good news.

This tends to be the way most senior leaders are managed in business. Very hands off unless there is a crisis. “That’s good, right?” “They should know what they’re doing.” “What more do they need?”

There are dramatic shifts that occur as leaders rise to the top. They are given increased responsibility, authority and autonomy. They’re expected to be bold, innovative and a risk taker. And yet, they receive less support, appreciation and feedback. This results in more stress, pressure and feelings of isolation.

When people find out I’m an Executive Coach I inevitably encounter the same question. What is the number one thing that executives want and don’t receive? My response, “support”, especially from their boss. As leaders are out there walking the corporate plank everyday they want to know that someone has their back and appreciates the work they are doing.

This reminds me of a story when I was an account executive. A good friend of mine worked at another advertising agency. One evening over beers, he was telling me about his boss who was a senior vice president. They worked long hours together on a big client presentation. After the presentation his boss asked him, “how did I do?” “Did I do ok?” This struck my friend as odd. Why would his boss, a very seasoned account person and skilled presenter, ask for feedback from a junior? We shrugged it off and went back to drinking.

I’ve come to understand there is little emotional validation and recognition for the effort that senior level folks put into their job. Unless there is a strictly enforced annual review process, many feel they are left in a precarious state of not really knowing how they are performing. In turn, this leads many executives to seek out affirmation from their peers and subordinates.

I have found, people will perform far beyond expectations if they feel that what they are doing is being appreciated and acknowledged. Maybe, just maybe, extra effort should be made to make it less lonely at or near the top. My guess, it would have a positive impact from top to bottom.