I wouldn’t know it from my personal experience as a “worker bee,” I’ve always heard that it is “Lonely at the Top.” I believe there is some truth to the cliché. Throughout my career, I’ve had numerous opportunities to have frank discussions with executives. During these discussions, I have often asked them if they feel isolated. And, if they are being honest, most will tell you that it really can be lonely. Just how isolating depends on many factors such as corporate culture, the executive’s accessibility, how the company is run, and even what motivates employees. And, of course, some executives are more truthful and forthcoming than others.
In some cases, no one’s above the president or CEO, except perhaps a board of directors. Often, executives at this level have no peers to discuss issues with except family and close friends. Friends and family may not fully understand the situation and others may not be sympathetic to their cause.
Their decisions directly affect people’s lives – yet he/she really can’t discuss issues that may affect their employees directly.
Cultivate a Feedback Team
If the executive comes into the company from another organization and, as many do, begins his/her tenure by “taking out costs,” which is often done by reducing “headcount” (people), it is difficult to get honest feedback at this point. The executive has already alienated himself from the workers and producers in the company. They wonder – am I next? Particularly if someone they respect was one of the causalities in the first round of layoffs.
At this point, most employees will tell the executive what they think he wants to hear, rather than what they really think should be done. This would be a good time to deploy a third-party collaborator to get the ball rolling. The third party needs to develop rapport with the workers and not only help them with challenges but help implement solutions, which is often the hardest part. The collaboration should include the executive and the workers not just managers or human resources – even if the processes are being adapted to new ways of doing things. Inclusion is important at this point to get adequate buy in across the organization, or it may have a direct impact on productivity.
Other things executives can do to prevent exclusion - include getting coaching and mentorship from the company leaders. But don’t leave out the workers from the equation.
So who can the executive turn to for coaching? It can’t just be family and friends. The executive’s team needs to include subordinates – not just the bosses, but also the workers. Executives need a support group or team that is willing to be direct and tell the truth, not just what they think you want to hear. And the executive should be open minded, listen carefully, and use the information constructively in a positive way.
By cultivating feedback teams, the executive can develop a relationship that will motivate the company in a positive way. Get lots of feedback. If executives are too isolated, they are more likely to make poor decisions.