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Friendship And Leadership

Whether you are a #1, a #2 or even #22 in the chain of command, every leadership role impacts not just your financial bottom line, but your relational bottom line, too. The well-worn phrase, “it’s lonely at the top,” is all too true. While those new to leadership roles often report struggling with feelings of loneliness, loneliness is not just for new leaders: more than half of all CEO’s feeling alone, and six of 10 admitting that loneliness adversely impacted their work performance before the pandemic.1 Particularly in conjunction with those contexts where and when the perks of leadership are a source of competition and even contention, the success which lead to promotion and leadership roles, responsibilities and privileges, like all successes, brings a new set of challenges, especially relational challenges.

One reason this is such a widespread problem is a matter of supply and demand. As anyone in leadership has learned, whether vicariously, or the hard way, every “yes” answer we give is a “no” to someone or something else. Just as saying yes to a leadership role usually means there will more times and places where leaders have simultaneously said no to someone or something else, the more we give in to work demands of our time and presence, the less we can supply the needs of other people, projects and purposes at the same time and space. While good teams and wise use of such tools as time management, staffing and artificial intelligence can help, every leader will eventually have to face the reality of limitations, whether personal or corporate, physical, financial, emotional, mental, or burnout.

My suggestion, if you do not already have a trusted friend or two with whom you regularly speak with in confidence, is to allot yourself the time and make the effort to develop such a friendship. Particularly in this post-pandemic and pre-what’s next socioeconomic climate, the cultivation of a trustworthy friend or two should be a high priority, or at least an “important/not urgent” item on your to-do list and in your schedule. While you may not lead in a context where friendship or “fraternization” with direct reports or charges is frowned upon or even against organizational policy, I would suggest looking for such a friend amongst your peers, preferably someone with equal or more experience than you, someone who at least recognizes the contribution that you might make to their work life and success.

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