Research indicates that many leaders experience feelings of loneliness and isolation, even though they are often surrounded by colleagues at work. It can help if the leader feels that colleagues share the same vision and values as they do, as this can create supportive emotional connections. But even then, it is the leader who has ultimate responsibility for their organisation or team, making decisions that may affect the livelihoods of those who work for them.

From the Third Sector

Our experience of working with leaders is that most find it helpful if they can discuss their challenges with others in a similar position. For example, we recently worked with a number of leaders of Charities and Social Enterprises. First, we met with each leader and asked them to list their top 3 internal challenges and top 3 external challenges. We then collated the results, finding a high level of commonality of challenges across the group. When we played the results back, individuals were both surprised and relieved to find they were not alone in the challenges they face at work. Immediately this started to create supportive bonds within the group. Over the ensuing months we facilitated sessions where the group discussed each of their shared challenges. One benefit of a group approach is that individuals receive multiple perspectives on an issue they face – some in the group may have come across a similar challenge in the past and can share what worked for them and what didn’t. As the level of trust between individuals increases over time, group members often provide the emotional support that the leader may find difficult to obtain at work.

Our experience is that such discussions work best if leaders self-select to join the group. Ideal participants are those who are keen to grow and develop as leaders, are happy to receive and provide constructive challenge & advice, and respect the needs of others in the group. A crucial ground rule is that any personal information raised during the discussion is kept confidential.

…to the Financial Sector

We’ve also been working with professionals in the financial sector in London. In this case, the group is made up of Business Development Heads of Hedge Funds & Asset Managers. All have the same business objective – to grow their businesses by winning new and retaining existing clients. Whilst the products they are offering and the clients they are targeting may differ, they generally face the same challenges at work. For example, how do we “stand out” from others in such a competitive environment, how do I as a leader ensure key members of the organisation are aligned to our business development goals, how do I maintain resilience through difficult periods? Not surprisingly, these are similar to those issues discussed by the leaders from the third sector. And the benefits individuals obtain in participating in such discussions are similar to those experienced by the leaders in the third sector.

…to You

Not everyone is able or wishes to join a facilitated peer learning group along the lines discussed above. If you are a leader in that position, seek out one or two individuals who you can trust to share your thoughts with and provide you with encouragement, challenge and professional rapport. It will be a much less lonely journey!

Author: Russell Borland