difficulty with leadership tough at the top

Difficulty with Leadership – It’s lonely at the top?

Sorry, No Sympathy Mourinho!

It’s easy to think that financial rewards, status and all the trappings of leadership are an attractive compensation for being the one that carries the can. Who cares that leaders might be lonely?


The difficulty with leadership - Put your head above the parapet and you are a target

Certainly, there are many dismissing football managers, Jose Mourinho’s admission that he is lonely and has few friends, as a dramatic self-pitying monologue. The charismatic Chelsea manager seems to have everything any person at the top of their game would want.  But does he have a point? Or is he simply facing the downside of being the boss and not relishing the criticism and speculation that is currently surrounding his every move?

When the critics start voicing their opinion, is that when standing head and shoulders above everyone else can simply promote feelings of vulnerability?

Lack of power is a more powerful stress trigger than loneliness at the top. 

Interestingly, a study by Tel Aviv University discovered something quite different. If you consider that lack of power is a great stress trigger, actually possessing power can be liberating and well, powerful! That may well be a significant compensation for many leaders’ perceived feelings of isolation.

Being powerful can make a leader more capable of being ‘themselves’

Lead researcher at Tel Aviv, Yona Kifer with others, suggested that because the powerful can help ‘navigate their lives in congruence with their internal desires and inclinations’, they feel as if they are acting more authentically – more like ‘themselves’. If this is the case then being isolated might be a small price to pay for being in a position of strength where you can be yourself.

Does being at the top have to equate with loneliness?

That all depends on the way you structure your relationships and how open you are to being the lead within a team. Some prefer a slightly detached stance to maintain distance. Yet somehow, that all seems rather ‘old school’ in this age of transparency and collaboration. Surely, working on common goals together is the strategy that will bring competitive strength to any organisation or business?

A leader needs an overview 

But s/he is not expected to have every competence. The ability to leverage available talent and resources while also ensuring networks are assimilated and connected puts a leader right at the heart of this competitive approach.

Collaboration exacerbates loneliness

If, on the other hand, relationships are strengthened by collaboration and benefits are mutually extracted, working together cannot easily lead to isolation. If a leader is central in finding points of intersection, inevitably they are placed within the action.

An isolationist approach to power may well lead to loneliness

It’s worth considering how any leader really can combine the ability to be a team player as well as then standing back and making decisions that have to be accepted. Many find the difficulty of moving from one role to another very challenging. One might suggest an isolationist approach to power may well lead to loneliness but might possibly suggest an inadequacy too.

Authenticity can help prevent the ‘lonely at the top’ syndrome

Of course, authenticity has something to add here to prevent leaders feeling lonely at the top. Instilling personality, vision and belief into a business, means it’s quite likely you will attract the kind of people that it’s easier to work alongside, who ‘get you’ and can cope with the element of split personality required to take the hard decisions one moment and work as an equal the other.

Being an over communicator can also prevent loneliness.

If people know your mind, are aware of progress, of great news and challenges they develop a bigger picture of your worth and their place in that relationship.  Being there to be a part of goals and agreements while also leading through a project will more than likely result in a more demonstrable sense of success and teamwork.

Is there really a top or is it just a continuum in a circular economy?

On a satiric note, one may well ask the question:  is there a top or is it a continuum? After all, leadership is always developed through practice and process, the on-going experiences and the frequent mistakes. Most of all it is human centred, otherwise, you are simply talking about management. Therefore, if that typifies all human endeavour, perhaps we might suggest loneliness at the top is a matter of choice and of course leadership choice.

Would you care a thought for Mourinho?


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