It’s lonely at the top…


As Tim Cook, Apple CEO, recently commented, “(The CEO job), it’s sort of a lonely job. The adage that it’s lonely – the CEO job is lonely – is accurate in a lot of ways. I’m not looking for any sympathy. You have to recognise that you have blind spots.”

Steve Tappin, global CEO expert and a personal confidant and coach to many of the world’s top CEOs tells us that “to avoid this loneliness and achieve some sort of work-life balance you have to build the right support networks around you. More than half the CEOs we spoke to say so. And most of the rest admit that they’d be lonely if they hadn’t taken deliberate action to build the support networks they need. Many CEOs draw on a tailored support network in their professional and personal lives”.

So my question for you if you’re at the top of your game and sitting in a chief executive position – have you ever felt lonely? Often when I meet CEOs they tell me they feel a lot of pressure in their roles or as they describe it – “it’s a bit like being the meat in the sandwich – reporting to the Board and shielding the team from stuff they don’t need”. Many tell me they don’t want to open up to their Chair about sensitive issues or matters that might make them look less than capable. Similarly, there is a smorgasbord of day-to-day topics that just aren’t appropriate to discuss with their senior team members. How do we break down the barriers of loneliness for CEOs and sole trader business owners?

Personally I experienced a real awakening on this subject years ago when a close colleague of mine, and local business owner, took his own life because he was really struggling with life, business and the demands of his industry. This was a real catalyst for me to encourage leaders to look beyond thinking of themselves as their only support mechanism.

Tapin’s research tells us that CEOs need to be able to get a perspective on themselves, their colleagues, and the performance of the fellowship as a whole. They need to draw on three principal elements: their chairperson, external coaches, and their family and friends. Finding the right blend of support – chairmen, coaches, mentors, family, and friends – depends on your preferences and needs. Top CEOs were insistent that building and maintaining the right support network is essential and takes careful thought and the investment of quality time. CEOs and their closest advisers tell us that there are three things you need to do to achieve just that:

• Take responsibly for your own life – Don’t let the business drive you
• Build an active support network
• Ensure you’re always at your best

The old way of being a CEO was to be lonely at the top, but the new way of being a CEO is to surround yourself with “all stars” who really care about you and your company. Don’t forget, being a CEO is now a team sport.


About Author

Senga Allen

Human Resource specialist and managing director, Everest Group Ltd Waikato HR Specialists