It's Lonely at the Top: How Coaching Helps Entrepreneurs Navigate the Day to Day.
"The man on top of the mountain didn't fall there." -Vince Lombardi
The other day I was speaking to a colleague from a networking group. We were explaining our services to one another and I mentioned that I work with entrepreneurs as an executive coach. He asked how long a typical engagement is and I told him it ranges from 5 - 10 sessions but that I had one client who I had worked with for over 3 years. This client was an entrepreneur who went from owning 2 business to 4 during the course of our engagement and during that time we focused on clariifying his role, improving his communication with his team and identifying his strengths and weaknesses. I also pointed out that entrepreneurs are also pretty lonely; they cannot truly connect or share with their direct reports, and their friends and family cannot offer the expert POV they need and seek.
At this point the conversation changed. My new friend was looking intently at me and began sharing how he had built his business from a one person show into a business with dozens of clients and a number of staff members. He told me that when I said being the top dog is lonely he immediately thought to himself "that's it!" I had defined the essence of an elusive feeling he had begun to sense in the past years as his business and team had grown. Little by little he felt pulled further from the products and services he had built and while he worked closely with his team, they couldn't really weigh in or comprehend his most important decisions. This, I told him, is common among entrepreneurs and in this way, he was very much in good company. But it still remained: he felt lonely at the top of the heap.
Some of the common themes that entrepreneurs (and CEO's) share being the top dog:
- no/few peers in your business
- no/few boundaries on your time
- no/little connection with your team
- no/little feedback from others
- no/little time to do the thing you love which is why you built your business in the first place.
No wonder entrepreneurs and leaders feel so isolated! Many choose to work with a coach who can act as a sounding board, trusted counsel and sage advisor. But there are things you can do to combat this loneliness you feel, even without a coach.
- Be proactive about making connections with others at your level. Join or create a community of folks who understand what you go through so you can learn and grow in your role as a leader.
- Recruit a mentor. Mentors are mined, meaning that you have to cultivate and find them. So ask someone more experienced than you if you can take them for coffee and once you have made the connection ask for them to mentor you. Could be as needed or could be regular meetings but speaking with someone more seasoned can be a valuable tool in your toolbox.
- Change the boundaries around your time. If you are constantly "on call" it is draining so carve out some time to replenish your energy and excitement for your work. Take up a sport, take time to read or just take a walk during the day to refresh your mind, clear your head or connect with those you love.
- Find ways to connect to your reports and their reports. Your connection should never undermine their direct manager's role and voice but by creating a pipeline to your team you can use it to trumpet the mission and values of the company and gain perspective on the employee experience.
- Bring joy back into your work life.Sometimes as the biggest boss you become the leader of all the dull tasks. Ensure that you still have tasks or moments in your day that can bring you joy whether it is a creative pursuit, mentoring a younger team member, doing an outing with your team or running a station just for fun (and perspective on the company!).
If you feel good and inspired and invigorated at work these good feelings will be infused into your culture and team. Make sure you are feeding your soul and staying connected so that you can be the best leader you can be....with or without a coach by your side.