Don’t become isolated

Leadership  Relationships
19 September, 2016

Calling senior leaders! Climb out of that ivory tower and broaden your perspective

A refrain that I hear often is that as you become more senior, the job starts feeling a bit lonelier. You’re not alone in feeling like this. While there are tremendously fulfilling aspects of being a leader, what many people find unsettling is getting isolated from their teams.

Think about it. As your responsibilities expand, you have to juggle many more things. Prioritising and finding time for everything becomes a big challenge. So, you try to find ways to become more efficient. As you get sucked into more meetings, you do end up meeting a lot of people. But the relationships become more transactional. Slowly but surely, you start losing your connection with your team members, your peers and your customers. You become more insular. You start focusing on the “I” instead of the “we”, probably because you think things work faster or better that way.

However, this is very ironic. You can’t be an effective leader without the full support of an energised and aligned team. And the more senior you become, if you don’t watch out, you can start losing touch with the broader organisation.

Authentic engagement begins to take a backseat. And isolation starts to narrow your perspective; when as leaders, you need to have a broad perspective.

If you don’t address this head on, you run the risk of become less self-aware and less attuned to the needs of others. You can start surrounding yourself with people you are most comfortable with, who probably won’t challenge you enough. And you probably don’t get to hear enough diverse points of view. You can end up creating barriers around yourself.

All of this can become quite destructive and limit your growth and effectiveness. Not only can it impact you, but also your team members. Therefore, in my message today, I want to talk about how to ensure that you don’t become isolated.

If you have been feeling like this, here are some suggestions you could consider:

1. Don’t be in denial

If you’re feeling frustrated or misunderstood or lonely or angry – allow yourself to feel it. Sometimes, the biggest mistake we make as leaders is to think that we can’t allow ourselves the luxury of feeling like this. So, instead of acknowledging and dealing with it, we tuck it away and pretend like it never happened. It doesn’t make you stronger, it probably makes you only more frustrated. Switching off doesn’t help either. Just let yourself feel whatever it is that you are feeling. The pretence itself can be exhausting. Once you do that, you can start introspecting on why things are going wrong and what you can do about it.

2. Create your sounding board

You don’t need to fix things all by yourself. Instead, build the right support system with people who you trust to be honest with you. It could be your partner, parent, close friend. A more formal coach or mentor – perhaps someone more senior in the industry, could be another useful guide to consider. Create this set of different advisors, who can be your sounding board. They can help offer feedback and guidance. Find people who have nothing but your best interest at heart.

3. Build relationships with peers outside the company

A peer group can be very helpful – meeting up with people with similar backgrounds and in similar roles, who can share experiences and help you think through your decisions. So, find opportunities to network and interact with your peers. You could do this by attending conferences, participating in panels or playing an active role in industry associations. Making time for this and really committing to it is key. Sunil Kataria is a great example – he is the Chairman of the Indian Society of Advertisers, is on various industry body committees and is a frequent speaker and panelist at conferences.

4. Balance your relationships

Walking the line is tricky. You want your team members to like you. You also want them to be able to respect your decisions and authority. The risk you run with focusing too hard on the latter, is isolating them. But you don’t want to become so friendly that you can’t give them the kind of feedback or take the tougher stand that you may need to at times. You need to find a balance, because you can’t win on your own. This probably gets more complicated given we work in such diverse teams today and much of this relationship-led dynamic is impacted by cultural context, age and background.

5. Collaborate with your colleagues

Look for ways to collaborate with and help others. You will get back more in return. For starters, think about signing up for cross functional projects where you can jointly work with colleagues from other functions. At the MC level for example, we are looking at having each MC member drive a multi-year cross functional priority, in addition to their current role.

6. Seek feedback from your team

How often do you ask your team members for feedback about you? There are of course, channels like 360 degree, but what about a more regular approach? Start getting more proactive about this. You could talk to them one on one. And when you do, don’t be defensive. Make it about feedback for you, not feedback for them.

7. Get off your desk

Be a part of what is happening in the company. So, don’t remain stuck to your desk or in meetings all day. Walk the hallways. Talk to people. Use your time to reach out more. Don’t have lunch at your desk or with the same people. Try to spend more time on the ground, in the market, visiting your customers and partners. The insights from these interactions will greatly help sharpen your decision making and keep you grounded.

If you are honest with yourself, you will recognise that you are probably more isolated than you think you are. So, do take a deeper and closer look at this.

Do write in and share your experiences and learning. I look forward to hearing from you.


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