It’s lonely at the top

It can be lonely at the top, but it shouldn’t be. Great leaders are always learning and have enough self-awareness and humility to ask for help in overcoming their weaknesses. For aspiring CEOs and executives, addressing their skill gaps will help them become an extraordinary leader.

One thing every aspiring CEO needs, is help.

In a a recent interview with Hunton Executive CEO Vanessa Meikle, Clare Long from Norgay HR Consulting said “CEO, MD and senior level roles can be lonely if you haven’t got someone who’s brave enough to give you feedback.”

What an insightful comment. ‘Lonely at the top’ is not a new concept, but it’s an important one. We’re always having conversations with brilliant aspiring executives who are struggling to take that big next step in their careers.

What is holding them back? Well, as Clare says, it’s because leaders need to have the ability to challenge, inspire and show people they are valued – particularly in the current environment.

“Your interpersonal relationships are so critical to the outcomes you get. Gain some insight into the strength of those relationships and be honest about where the gaps are,” says Clare.

“It’s absolutely up to leaders to get the help they need to close these gaps.”

Clare adds that you have to grant people permission to give you feedback, be willing to take this feedback, and start the process by doing feedback on yourself.

We are completely in agreement: Yes, it’s lonely at the top – but it doesn’t have to be. And not only that, it shouldn’t be. Aspiring executives need to ask for help.

Asking for help isn’t easy

While we’ve established that an aspiring executive needs help, it can be tough for them to ask. We’re often taught that asking for support is a sign of weakness or that we’re not cut out for the top. It’s what has been referred to by others asthe myth of the self-reliant CEO’.

In fact, the case is quite the opposite. Asking for assistance is essential in helping you become the best leader you possibly can. It also demonstrates the self-awareness and ability to learn that every extraordinary leader has.

Our reluctance to ask for help is very ‘human’, according to this article from Psychology Today, particularly for those of us who have been raised in cultures which value the individual. However, as the article says “you need both independence and dependence—not one or the other”.

Yet for an aspiring executive or CEO, these fears are rooted in genuine concerns. As this report from public relations firm Weber Shandwick points out, the public reputation of a CEO is more important than ever, and very easy to tarnish with a single comment. 

Aspiring executives can worry that asking for help internally, or even within other companies within the industry, will make them seem weak or indecisive. And, rightly or wrongly, it is grounded in truth – people talk, and a bad reputation is difficult (although not impossible) to overcome.

On the other hand, other sources of support are unlikely to yield the results you need. Family and friends find it hard to be truly honest, or are naturally biased by their affection for you as a person. Also, they are unlikely to have the technical or industry know-how to provide the kind of targeted input that you need to improve at an elite level.

That’s why it’s worth entertaining the idea of hiring a business or personal coach, who knows exactly the questions to ask, and will give you honest yet constructive advice on where you need to improve.

Looking to ‘the Qs’

So, how do we go about identifying the areas where aspiring executives need to get help?

An easy way to start is to think about the ‘Qs’. We’ve probably all heard of IQ – intelligence quotient – which measures our intelligence. For the last few years, we’ve also been talking a lot about the importance of EQ, or emotional intelligence, which is all about how you manage emotions. Essential for anyone managing employees, or relationships with clients or other stakeholders.

However, our understanding is evolving to a whole range of other areas, – some people refer to them as the six Qs of leadership and include areas like TQ (technical quotient), which measures your ability to get tasks done, and MQ, or motivational quotient. Others also talk about SQ, which is social quotient – your ability to know yourself and know others.  Or AQ, adversity quotient, which how you adapt and cope with change.

One that’s particularly interesting is LQ, which is your capacity to keep learning new skills, behaviours and beliefs. Learning should be a lifelong process, especially for executives, who need to keep ahead of every development for the sake of the companies they are leading. Executives must have open minds, to adopt not just knowledge but new ideas and behaviours.

These Qs are not a foolproof system, but a good way to spark genuine consideration of the qualities of an extraordinary leader.

A path forward

So, if you think about having developed Qs as the outcomes, then the next challenge is how you improve them and address any gaps. This is where coaching helps zero in on the behaviours and areas in need of development as you move forward with your executive career.

Some areas we’ve identified as the most common leadership skill gaps are:

  • Self-awareness about your own behaviour. Think, do you know yourself and your impact upon others? Where do you have to improve? How can you manage your personal energy for the sake of a team?
  • Having presence. As we’ve written before, presence is one of the most crucial and in some ways hardest things to develop as you move from manager to executive. Lack of confidence, or inability to project confidence, is frequently a significant blocker.
  • How well do you interact, manage and lead your team forward? What can you do to elevate this in the future?
  • How well do you navigate change, in your own world, as well as for your organisation and your team?
  • How good are you at strategic decisions that will improve business performance and ensure success?
  • Networking – are you engaging in a way that makes you visible across your industry?

Hunton Executive can help you feel supported at top, giving you the guidance you need to become an extraordinary leader.

If you’re interested in discovering your own executive strengths and weaknesses, why not try our free scorecard. In just a few minutes, we’ll help you understand what steps you can take to ensure you’re an extraordinary leader.

Hunton Executive is also excited to be partnering with Ramin Rafiei, Ph.D. to create an exclusive and personalised Executive and Board Director Coaching Program. Find out more here.

For HR consulting, compliance, and support for your growing business contact Clare Long at Norgay HR Consulting. Find out more here.


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