It was reported recently that Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, had spoken to an online head teachers’ conference about how he’s coped with the pressures of his position over the last year. “I think leadership, as for so many head teachers, has sometimes been quite an incredibly challenging experience and often a very lonely experience” he said.
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has also spoken of his experiences throughout the challenges of the pandemic, admitting that “being a leader is lonely…I’ve struggled.” He said there was no doubt his mental health had been affected and that there had been days he’d felt unable to provide proper leadership.
Although not exclusively an issue brought about by the pandemic, there’s no doubt that people who’ve managed and led others throughout the last year have had an experience that no-one previously could have understood – and loneliness can be a difficult issue for leaders to address at the best of times. Many don’t want to admit feeling lonely for fear of being seen as vulnerable or weak but, aside from the obvious impact on their own mental health and stress levels, it can also filter down through teams and ultimately affect performance.
Whether at CEO level or someone entirely new to managing a team, isolation and loneliness can happen to anyone and those who feel isolated can unintentionally come across as being aloof and distant. If the team then avoid you because of this, that makes it even harder to lead effectively.
Establishing lifelines outside of the workplace and industry is obviously important for emotional support and gaining a different perspective on things, but support from those within the team shouldn’t be underestimated either. Leaders aren’t expected to have all the answers, especially in these unprecedented times, and working through problems together has benefits all round – such as a more empowered team and a leader without the weight of the world on their shoulders.
Leaders owe it to themselves, and their organisations, to find ways to cope with feelings of loneliness and simply acknowledging them in the first place can often be the first step towards dealing with them. Those who feel able to engage and keep connecting with the people around them might be better placed to find a way through it and perhaps become a better leader because of it.