Is it true, is it really lonely at the top?

by | Jun 3, 2020 | Insights | 0 comments


With leadership comes responsibility, accountability, and possibly the expectation that you are the fountain of all knowledge.

There is also, either perceived or actual, power imbalances.

Current circumstances have meant that many of us are now either working from home, supporting staff who are working remotely, or both.

In these new arrangements we need to be mindful that the reporting relationships still exist, front line staff to supervisor, manager/executive to CEO.

Is it any wonder so many leaders indicate they are lonely and/or feel isolated?

It is lonely at the top – is this old cliché true?

Let’s break it down by starting with the difference between lonely (loneliness) and isolated (isolation):

  • Lonely: Sad because one has no friends or company. Without companions; solitary.
  • Isolated: Having minimal contact or little in common with others.

These terms are utilised as synonyms for the other. They essentially mean the same thing!

Sadly, loneliness is not just a state of mind; it can be dangerous to your health: it increases the risk for heart disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety. Experiencing any of these has flow-on effects to other aspects of our life.


Does it have to be this way?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

This type of organisational structure may reinforce the view that it is lonely at the top, or at least, the higher you go the lonelier it gets.

It certainly does create the risk of disconnect, why?

Access to information: As you climb your organisational ladder, you are exposed to more information (sometimes sensitive) and now you have to balance the need for transparency and sharing, with the ‘need to know’.

You can continue to tailor specific and contextual information with emphasis on delivery, detail and recipient need. 

You are human:  You are confident in your strengths and staff may expect you to be stoic and to cope with anything. Are you willing to also show you are vulnerable and ask for support when you need it?

You think and behave differently:  Expectations, responsibility and accountability change as you move up: you may be required to take more risks, think and act more strategically, make more decisions and have more difficult conversations, all of which can push you further away from staff.

This need not be your experience. Honestly and authentically communicate your role, accountability, and expectations.

Leader or friend: You cannot be both. A common trap for people transitioning from peer to leader is the boundaries between being a manager/leader and a friend. It is within your role as a leader to ensure there is no conflict of interest.

By being calculated with your boundaries you can balance the personal and professional and still show you care and are interested in your staff.

Impostor syndrome: It is real and manifests itself through self-doubt, fear, stifling perfectionism, and the belief that your success is due to luck and not your skills, knowledge or behaviour. Impostor syndrome is about making the negative about the person and the positive about the environment.

You can internalise and own your success!

Break-free! (cue Queen – I want to break free)

Now that the song is stuck in your head – isolation and loneliness need not be a given.

By embedding yourself within the team and their work, as a leader, you become more visible, approachable, and relatable to the people you work with. This is achievable at all levels that is, with frontline staff, your peers, and executives.

Remember the hierarchy above? What if the structure looked like this?

Even if your organisational structure does not look this flat – function and engage as if it were!!

Additional ways to address loneliness and isolation include:


Most executives seek support. Coaching and mentoring can assist leaders to improve their leadership performance, behaviour, thinking and decision making.


We all need someone to talk to. A place where we can be open, honest, and vulnerable, without judgement and where confidentiality will be maintained. This is essential for you both emotionally and for your development as a leader.

Remain connected with the team(s):

If you genuinely believe you are all in this together, you will create the environment where you celebrate success and feel the pain, together. This is the perfect opportunity to model working as one.

Acknowledge and accept:

We all have feelings and acknowledging them goes a long way in enabling us to address them. Similarly, the more we know and understand our staff, the better leaders are at supporting people. Building both resilience and emotional intelligence is contingent on understanding yourself.

Outcomes or people – finding the balance:

You have the opportunity and need to foster environments that are creative, safe, respectful, and inclusive. These with enable the team to sustain long-term results.  Belief, confidence, and trust in your staff enables stronger relationships to develop, which in turn, achieves the desired organisational outcomes.

You do not have to feel alone or isolated as you move up your organisation. Remember, you are in control of you.

Realise Your Vision offers targeted executive coaching and mentoring to enable you to develop further develop as a leader, and in turn, grow your people, programs, and services. Leadership skills are always things we can polish up. Reach out for a free 30 minute consultation here.


Bill Miliotis

Organisational Architect and Change Leader.

Working across multiple sectors, Bill facilitates the creation and implementation of lasting development, growth and outcomes.

For more information visit or email

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