The True Cost of the View from the Top
The psychological toll of leadership is often borne alone, but trusted confidants can help restore clarity and resilience.
WRITTEN BY: ADAM DANYAL
We’ve all heard the old adage, “It’s lonely at the top.” But until you’ve sat in the chief executive’s chair, you can’t fully appreciate the emotional toll of leadership. Like Atlas carrying the weight of the sky, senior leaders often bear heavy burdens in isolation.
Decisions with sweeping impacts create fallout that ripples through organizations. Mass layoffs prompt resentment. Canceled projects ignite frustration. Shifted priorities breed confusion. Yet leaders must stand firmly behind choices made for the enterprise’s greater good.
There’s no shoulder to cry on when waves of change push back hard. Confiding doubts or complaints to subordinates seems improper. Peers compete for resources in a zero-sum game. So leaders stuffed emotions deep inside, where they silently fester.
This lonely burden exacts a price. American Heart Association research shows isolation increases the risk of heart disease. Stress damages telomeres, the protective caps on DNA that regulate aging. And unshared troubles all too easily morph into burnout or depression.
How can leaders cope with the psychological toll of decisions no one else can fully grasp? It begins with recognizing you cannot carry this alone. Like world-class athletes with their trusted coaches, leaders need sage advisors to hear them out in confidence, offer reassurance, help frame turbulence in context, and restore depleted spirits.
Spouses, executive coaches, or trusted mentors outside the organizational hierarchy often fit this bill best. Guarding private struggles from subordinates maintains leadership mystique while confiding in objective outsiders provides a pressure-release valve.
Of course, isolation is not the full picture. Conviction in goals, joy in breakthroughs and the meaningful bonds formed in common purpose all make leadership profoundly worthwhile. Yet leaders serve others best when first replenishing their own spirits.
The climb to the summit can be done alone, but the view is better when shared. Even Atlas needed a break now and then. Choosing the right shoulders to lean on makes all the difference.
From our Leadership Bookshelf:
WRITTEN BY: JULIA DANYAL
As Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz illustrate in “The Power of Full Engagement,” top executives know all too well that leadership can exact a heavy psychological toll. The burdens faced in isolation at the upper echelons take a price that rivals nonstop decision making. Yet with the right coping strategies, executives can avoid the damaging effects of going it alone.
Leaders need scheduled recovery time to recharge physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Pushing nonstop leads to burnout.
Having supportive relationships provides an outlet to process leadership burdens instead of internalizing them.
Rituals that incorporate relaxation, reflection and renewal create reservoirs of energy to handle workplace adversity.
Applying energy management principles used by star athletes allows leaders to sustain performance despite immense responsibilities.
By taking inspiration from world-class performers, leaders can develop skills for managing their energy. This prevents them from burning out while creating capacity to share feelings, process emotions and recharge their spirits. With the right recovery regimen, executives can sustain peak performance despite heavy burdens.