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  • Paul Adlam

Are you lonely up there?


So, you made it to the top, to where you wanted to be? Or maybe you didn’t want to be there and found yourself there anyway. Perhaps you are a business owner who’s never been anything but at the top. However you got there, do you now know all the answers? Are you totally sure about every decision you take about the business? Do you feel confident to face every challenge that is thrown at you?

The more senior you are in an organisation, the more isolated you generally are. In his books on Adaptive Leadership, Ronnie Heifetz makes a distinction between Allies and Confidantes. Both are to be found on the way up the corporate ladder, but once at the top, that support, reassurance and enjoyment of having a true confidante within the business can (and should) disappear as you move outside of the team to become the leader others look up to.

Many new CEOs and senior executives can feel quite uncomfortable in their new role, overly aware of their weaknesses and lacking in confidence in decision-making and staff management.

Business owners may never have experienced nor expected this support, but still can suffer the isolation and pressure of taking all the decisions alone, and the inability to utilise their strengths and manage their weaknesses in a positive way for the business.

Having a trusted sounding board to work through challenges, bounce ideas off and give constructive, confidential feedback can be enormously helpful to a CEO who is serious about addressing their own performance and that of their business.

A recent "The Bottom Line" on BBC R4 featured Evan Davis interviewing Melanie Richards, Vice-Chair and partner at KPMG and Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT Group about their experiences with business coaches and mentors. Interestingly, as users, they didn’t make much distinction between the two, but were both very articulate regarding the benefits they gained. Gavin Patterson expressed how his business mentor is “able to help you think through some of the challenges you face” and was also very upfront that it’s not just about business:

“It’s partly talking through decisions you’re facing at work, but it’s also helping you manage the other things in your life and get the right balance in your life. To be effective in your day job you’ve got to make sure your health is good, your relationships are good, you’re looking after the other responsibilities that you have. If you get them out of kilter your work can suffer”.

In my work as a business coach and Chairman at the Academy for Chief Executives, I see business leaders grapple with all manner of tricky decisions - and the value they place on being able to verbalise their challenges with on-side listeners who can give honest, objective and non-judgmental suggestions and feedback.

You wouldn’t be there if you couldn’t do it

It is normal to feel unprepared if you are new to a position and you can expect to be learning all the time. Everyone has their hang ups, it’s just that we can’t see them in others. Almost everyone I have worked with has suffered from varying degrees of “imposter syndrome”, with the expectation of being ‘found out’.

Acknowledge your strengths and admit your weaknesses

It’s really important to be honest about where you feel confident and where you don’t. Concentrate on the former and find people who can do the latter really well.

You don’t need to go it alone

The brilliant author Malcolm Gladwell explained in his best selling book “Outliers” that success doesn’t arise from nowhere. We all owe something to parentage and patronage. Successful people may look like they did it all by themselves, but in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages, including having the right people around them and support when they need it.

Top performers in other walks of life don’t go it alone. Elite athletes have coaches, politicians have advisers. Why do you think you need to?


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