Lonely leader? You’re not alone

by Blog, Leadership, Mental health

Lonely leader? You’re not alone    By Jonathan Fine. May 3, 2017.

Half of CEOs experience feelings of loneliness in their role, and of this group 61 per cent think it hinders their performance, according to Harvard Business review. I can tell you from my own experience in my former life as CEO of a marketing communications group and from working with dental practice owners for seven years that loneliness and its repercussions can affect anyone with newfound authority.

What can be most disturbing is the unexpected nature of these feelings. You wanted to present an exterior of unflappable confidence but didn’t bargain for self-doubt and anxiety. They seem like signs of failure so you hide them away. Never a good idea. These feelings are natural and healthy.

Running a business is difficult; leaders have to use everything they have at their disposal to steer the course and inspire confidence. It never stops, and that means leaders have to harness the power of their ego at times and simultaneously keep a handle on reality and all of their blind spots. All of this is pretty much impossible on your own.

Obviously pacing around your practice looking pale and worried in front of the team isn’t going to be very beneficial for anyone, but I’m seeing a clear need among dentists to accept that taboo feelings of stress, isolation and self-doubt are really very normal. I think there’s a need to acknowledge these emotions because then they can be dealt with before they cause any damage.

You are not a failure because you feel anxious and lonely. It just means you care and want to do the best you can, and perhaps you have been responding to that pressure by tightening up and getting more fixed and rigid. It’s a very human response. Simply acknowledging feelings of loneliness or isolation can be a relief in itself because constantly denying these emotions in exchange for a false sense of self-assurance is exhausting.

I’m afraid I don’t buy in to the “fake it till you make it” mantra of self-help coaches the world over. Instead I’d advise you to accept reality. That’s harder than it sounds. Try to take a moment each day, or whenever you remember, to process and accept how complex, and scary, your responsibilities can be. The more accepting of this reality you become, the easier it will be to seek and accept support in dealing with it.

The support you have around you is critical to your success. Get it anywhere you can. It could be your spouse, your friends, your parents. It might be a business group you belong to, ex-colleagues, a former teacher. It doesn’t really matter who they are, what matters is that you trust them and feel they have your best interests at heart. They need to be able to offer you a safe outlet for your concerns and give you honest, impartial feedback. They’ll help you regain perspective when you get stuck. Being able to accept feedback can be difficult at first but it gets easier and will make you more resilient in the future.

I see a lot of practice owners getting bogged down with endless details and tasks. This is particularly difficult for dentists, who have been trained to be detail-focused clinicians. For dentists, stepping back from the minutiae, particularly when they are feeling stressed, and keeping hold of the bigger picture, is very hard. This is compounded by overwhelm, the feeling that comes with loneliness where you feel frozen, unable to process the next decision.

Tackling the major obstacles head on and keeping moving is the only answer to this agonising state of mind. If you stay stuck for too long things will fall apart. When you tackle major obstacles head on your confidence will increase and the next big decision gets easier. When you’re not sure what to do pick one problem. Gather data (something dentists are very good at), go to your advisors for feedback and support, then make the decision. Then you can move on to the next problem.

You’ll feel better, I promise, and things will get easier. The loneliness might never go away completely, but use it as a cue to talk to whoever you have in place as your support. If there’s no one there to support you from outside your business, your first priority is to find someone. It will take a while to set this up but I can be there for you in the meantime, just get in touch.

JJF | 07860672727 | [email protected]


“Feelings of stress, isolation and self-doubt are really normal”

Jonathan Fine, MD

Author: Jonathan Fine