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It doesn't have to be lonely at the top

You have probably heard the phrase "It's lonely at the top" many times.



John Maxwell, the American leadership guru, states: "If you feel lonely at the top, you are not doing something right. Loneliness comes from personality, not from position."

My own leadership experience confirms Maxwell's statement. If you find yourself a lonely, isolated leader, then you have a personality issue and poor people skills.

Let me share with you how you can avoid being lonely at the top:

Connect with people on all levels across the organisation. The ability to connect with people is a critical attribute of great leaders. You need to invest time and energy to do so. It will give you a great amount of influence. Connect with people on all hierarchical levels in order to overcome the distance. Some call this MBWA: management by walking around. Make sure you don't apply positional thinking, since it will cause you to disconnect with your people. And isolated leaders are not effective.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. In my previous company, we created regular monthly events like "Coffee talk with the MD and "Lunch with the MD", in which five staff members were randomly selected to have coffee or lunch with me, as the MD. Any topics could be raised, any questions could be asked. Every two months we held a "Leadership team meets staff" event, where all staff members could participate. After the leadership team gave a brief overview about the progress we made towards our company's main goals, employees could ask any questions that were of interest to them.

Build intentional relationships. Effective leaders take a relational approach. You need to be an intentional relationship builder. Develop healthy relationships with the people who are most important to you. One tool that we used effectively at my previous company was off-site meetings. Every two months, I took my leadership team for a two- or three-day off-site meeting upcountry. It had a strong impact on team bonding. Strong relationships grew after a period of time into friendships that even lasted for years after I left the company.

Value your people. "People are our most valuable asset" is a phrase that is widely used, but leaders often don't follow their words with deeds. Therefore, after you have told your people how much you value them, live up to your promises and treat them accordingly. Look for common ground and define goals that do not only benefit your shareholders, but also take care of the interests of your people. I am a strong believer in a "four stakeholders approach", in which a company aims to create value for its employees, customers, shareholders and society.

Love your people. One of my favourite quotations is: "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." I go even one step further and say, "Love your people." If you are able to do that, people will follow you and give you their strongest support no matter how big the challenges and obstacles are.

As a German I found it very difficult to stand up for the first time in front of our 200 employees and to tell them in my speech "I love you all" although this was the way I felt. I really had to come out of my comfort zone. Americans use such expressions frequently, but in German companies this is not done at all. It was a great reward to break out of my comfort zone when a number of employees came up to me after my speech to tell me that they love me too.

If you follow the above five points, your people will follow you. Take them along with you to the top; then you won't be lonely at the top. You will have a great working atmosphere and you will produce results for your people, the organisation and yourself.


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