Every senior leadership role gets lonely from time to time. It is natural and yet extremely exhausting. Even the most energetic people I worked with, when truly alone, see their resolve slowly abrade with time. I’ve got good news, though, you don’t have to accept this loneliness!
First, I’ll start with my basic premise for this article: the innate loneliness for executives is a fact, but you don’t have to remain in this state of solitude. In fact, I believe it is your responsibility to break out of it, as it is key for your well-being as well as ensuring you can fully leverage your role.
Ostensibly, executive teams might look like anything but a genuine “team,” but that is only true if you succumb to this happening. I’ve already described at length how the most crucial partnership for tech executives is with their product counterparts. That’s because R&D and Product are joined at the hip; no one can succeed while the other fails.
Working well with Product, though, is merely the first step. Do not stop there. As part of moving upstream, executives should build solid relationships and partnerships with other leaders throughout the company. As I describe in The Tech Executive Operating System, this is part of how you make yourself a genuine executive—as opposed to a glorified manager. Building such rapport makes you better understand the business as a whole, increases chances of serendipitous collaborations across departments, and makes it considerably easier to affect the company’s direction and strategy.
The Oh So True Story
This is actually not just a single story, but unfortunately, something I’ve seen transpire many times before. An extraordinarily talented and motivated executive sees a lot of areas where the company should be doing better or differently and starts on a crusade to get there. Initially, they see this as a healthy challenge and imagine that they will weather any storm that lies ahead. But, as I said in the beginning, no one is made of stone. If they insist on doing all of this pushing by themselves, and things don’t improve as fast as they were hoping (they rarely do), they lose energy.
That might happen abruptly, where all of a sudden, they realise that they’ve burned out and want to leave. It might result in an exceedingly frustrated and embittered executive in other cases. Perhaps the worst of all options is when the once-motivated executive essentially lets go. They have learned helplessness and do the leadership equivalent of going limp. Having had to help organisations and executives overcome these scenarios, I can testify that it can take a lot of time and that some people seem to lose years while trying to recuperate and being able to take on such roles again.
Contrast that with people who understand that they don’t have to—or can’t, really—go it alone. They have healthy and solid relationships with many of their peers in the company, which means that they are likely to have partners on their side for most of their initiatives and ideas. They have people that they collaborate with, or at least commiserate, and therefore escape seclusion. My repeating mantra lately to clients is that life is short—it definitely is too short to go through these challenges alone!
Solitude and Silos
One last bit: this doesn’t stop at the executive level. It actually applies to all levels of your organisation. Coaching your managers to understand this sort of thinking is crucial. For example, engineering managers who have a solid connection with their product managers are significantly more likely to lead an effective and impactful team.
Product, sales, marketing, customer success, all of those other people in the company that you might not completely understand what they do—are not the enemy. Create alliances, collaborate with allies, and don’t go it alone!