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Overcoming “Lonely at the Top” Syndrome

lonely at the topMost small business owners are ready and willing to take on the many tasks involved in running a successful enterprise—from devising a budget to hiring staff and planning both short-term and long-range strategy. It’s what they’ve aspired to do since setting out on their own.

But the role of entrepreneur/owner/CEO is a double-edged sword. No one’s telling you how to run your business, but on the other hand, no one else can take responsibility if and when things go wrong. More importantly, as the person in charge, you should steer clear of expressing your doubts about the business with your employees, since they look to you for round-the-clock leadership and inspiration.

As a result, some business leaders may succumb to “lonely at the top” syndrome. Left unchecked, these feelings of high-level loneliness can seriously impact the growth of one’s business, and the overall mental health of the business owner.

So what can a small business owner do to overcome this syndrome? Try the following:

Find a coach or mentor. Take a look at your professional network. Who among the people you know run their own business or have done so in the past? Reach out to these individuals for advice and guidance. See if someone you know and trust is willing to act as a mentor, even on a short-term basis.

Also ask people in your network if they can recommend a skilled executive or CEO coach. Generally speaking, these people come from a business leadership background and now consult professionally with business owners, CEOs and others. An experienced, qualified coach might be just the person to provide the objective opinion you need to get out of a rut.

Join a peer leadership group. Numerous CEO and other executive-level/small business owner peer groups have sprung up around the country, specifically addressing the issue of feeling lonely at the top. These groups—usually consisting of 10-12 business leaders from different (and non-competing) industries—can be an ideal sounding board for exploring growth opportunities and answers to pressing business problems.

The best of these groups operate on a “been-there-done-that” basis, meaning peer group members are happy to address an issue you have, since they’ve already been through the experience of overcoming challenges themselves. At the same time, you’re expected to offer insights based on your own experience—a process that can foster a confidence-building sense that you’re helping others overcome loneliness, too.

Reach out on social media. Twitter and Facebook are potentially useful allies in the fight against executive-level loneliness—as long as you stay focused on the type of activity that keeps you moving forward. Of social media sites, LinkedIn is probably among the most effective in terms of addressing high-level isolation. LinkedIn features special interest groups for virtually every industry; by becoming a member of such a group, you’ll connect with business leaders like yourself thirsting for more contact with others who know what they’re going through.

Focus on improved communications with your employees. Some of the isolation business leaders feel comes from a lack of contact with front-line employees who interact with customers every day. If you take time to talk with these people on a fairly regular basis, you’ll feel much more “tuned in” to what’s happening within the business.

At the same time, don’t do all the talking in such situations. You’ll get much more from the experience by asking questions, particularly centered around what types of issues your employees face and what resources you might provide to make their jobs easier. It’s also helpful to see if they have a clear understanding of the business and your vision for the future. Asking the right questions will help make sure everyone’s on the same page.

Running your own business can bring with it a sense of isolation. Fortunately, there are ways to stay connected with others and maintain a clear focus on your business.

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