It is lonely at the top, but it doesn’t have to be

It is lonely and isolating at the top. It is.

There are expectations and pressure from boards and shareholders, and responsibilities to leadership teams and the executive. There are often conflicting priorities, time constraints and ongoing financial pressures. Add to that self-imposed pressure around what a particular role means for career success.

It can be hard to find someone that you trust to talk to about these issues. Particularly, someone who truly understands. Sometimes CEOs or MDs have a trusted mentor who has been there, done that. But often, the top feels like a very lonely and isolating place.

And there is the unspoken question, particularly for first time CEOs and other C-suiters: “Am I doing this right?” “When will they find out I am an imposter?”

The imposter syndrome is well documented: “Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt and feelings of intellectual fraudulence. The impostor syndrome is associated with highly achieving, highly successful people.”  It was originally associated with women but recent research indicates that men suffer in similar numbers.

We often talk about the difficulties that women have in both reaching leadership positions and then what they encounter while they are there. I would argue that despite the glass ceiling, despite the challenges presented by trying to balance a career and a family and despite it being lonelier (in that there are fewer women in executive and board levels positions), women do have a secret weapon.

Women (although increasingly men are getting it too) are hearing the message of the likes of Brene Brown and realising that being vulnerable, that speaking your truth in a safe place can provide extraordinary opportunities to grow and develop.

Increasingly, women are seeking out counsel, mentorship, guidance, support and growth from networks and organisations such as Behind Closed Doors. They are putting to bed their imposter syndrome demons within a safe environment.

Men, of course, have always networked, whether on the golf course or increasingly as part of the lycra brigade. But networking is not the same. Networking provides contacts. Networking does not necessarily provide support.

My observation (again a broad one, and there are always exceptions that prove the rule) is that there are fewer places where men can to learn to support each other, and to grow. Fewer places that actively encourage being vulnerable. And that can make it a pretty lonely place to be.

Of course there is one thing being vulnerable in the safe haven of a group such as Behind Closed Doors and quite another taking it back to your organisation, but that’s a post for another day! In the meantime, I encourage you to read the works of Brene Brown if you have yet to do so, or watch the Tedx talk that made her famous.

Tammy Tansley is our Guest Blogger and the Principal of Tammy Tansley Consulting, a boutique firm specializing in culture change and workforce performance (

One thought on “It is lonely at the top, but it doesn’t have to be

  1. Pingback: I'm not good enough - Tammy Tansley Consulting

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *