If you are lonely when you’re leading, you’re probably not. (Chew on that for a while!)
“It’s lonely at the top”, or what some industries term “the loneliness of command” is, like a lot of leadership clichés, used as an excuse for ‘poor boss behaviour’.
If you generally feel lonely when you are ‘leading’, you might need to assess how much leading you are actually doing. Recall that as the boss, we wear three hats…a ‘Command Hat’, a ‘Management Hat’, and a ‘Leadership Hat’. A good boss will seamlessly move in and out of the three roles depending on the situation presented.
Leadership is concerned with positively motivating our team. Getting to know them; their strengths, weaknesses, worries, habits, family situation, etc. How can we be lonely whilst doing this? By definition, it requires empathetic interaction.
Of course, if the shit goes down, the buck stops with the leader, and I guess this is where the cliché is most appropriate. But…come on…how often does the shit REALLY go down in your workplace??
As an airline captain, I wear the same three hats as other bosses. As a default, I wear my leadership hat; my crews are highly trained, motivated to do a great job, and don't need much direction. In an emergency, I have been trained to draw on all available resources in order to bring the passengers (and me!) safely back down to the Earth’s surface…this means I talk. Talk to my company, talk to engineers, talk to my cabin crew, and of course talk to my fellow pilots. Once we have come up with a cunning plan, I will need to put my command hat on and start directing action, then the management hat as I begin to establish short term goals, monitor workflows, and allocate responsibilities. Overall, it's definitely not a lonely exercise.
The days of the captain leaving his ‘command hat’ on the entire time and just directing action are well and truly in the past...like all high performance teams, the objective is to get the most out of the group, not go for personal glory. I know that if there is a serious accident or incident, I will be the one sitting across the desk from the 5 lawyers, but I certainly couldn’t classify my job as lonely.
Leadership requires interaction. Constant interaction. If you are lonely, are you really leading?