Leadership is lonely. Get used to it.

26 July 2016

A while ago, I used to look at the leaders around me and feel envious. Why can’t I be the one to push people like that? Why can’t I command attention?

Soon enough, the moment came when I was a leader. I was elected President of a small youth organisation. It was about 7 of us in the steering committee and I was the President. Did I know what I was doing? No. Did I learn shit loads and become better? Hell yes.

The thing is, when someone else is taking the lead, you have a lot of people with you who are being led. And that feels like you belong. It gives you a false sense of security. It feels like you can drop it and someone else will pick up the baton.

When you’re taking the lead, you’re alone. You feel alone. You feel like if you drop the baton, no one else will pick it up. When you’re the one doing the leading, there’s no one else with you. Everyone is around you, but no one is with you.

It might seem stupid that someone who talks to people all day can feel lonely.

Loneliness is not being alone, it’s the feeling that no one cares.

Every step in leadership we take, comes the inevitable loneliness. We can’t share everything we experience because everything isn’t beneficial to them. We can’t just ask for anyone’s advice about the trouble you’re having with people you look up to because you don’t want to talk behind their back. All this leads to an uneasy feeling of empty loneliness.

In his interview, Kobe Bryant talks about leadership. This is something I resonated with even though basketball and youth volunteering are miles apart.

This is how I dealt with it,

Have the courage to stand alone

If you’re convinced you’re doing the right thing and you’ve reasoned it out, stand by it and be willing to stand alone.

Confide in the right people

As humans, it’s tempting to confide in people when something goes wrong. I’ve made this mistake quite a few times and I’ve learnt that it only pushes people away and it doesn’t solve anything. If they don’t have anything to do with the problem or the solution, keep them out of it.

Get help when you need it

In this TEDx talk, Tai Lopez talks about having a mentor. And this is really important. This is what I didn’t have and I definitely feel the lack of it. Having someone outside the organisation who you can talk to and rely on not only for good advice but for having an outlet is really important. This doesn’t just mean you have to look for a monk who spent his entire life learning about life. Invest in some friends and you can learn from them. Every single person you ever meet knows something you don’t know, which you can learn from.

Be mindful of your emotions

Things might get out of hand during meetings, you might not like the ideas being thrown around and you feel like you can’t do it anymore. You feel like you just want to quit. Don’t let these emotions get the better of you. Think about what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it. We can be surprisingly weak as humans and we can easily judge an idea based on the person it’s coming from rather than the idea itself. Whenever you feel irritated or you feel like you want to quit, think about why you feel that way. More often than not, you won’t feel that way anymore once you spend a moment thinking about it.

Invest in yourself

Spend time with yourself. Learn who you are when you don’t have anyone or the things that you love around you. This will go a long way in understanding who you want to be and who you are right now. Acceptance is the biggest step in growth.

Leadership loneliness is inevitable. Spend some time thinking about it and draw your own conclusions. This can go a long way in making you a better leader and keeping up your mental and emotional well being.