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People often say that it’s lonely at the top, but there is academic evidence to prove it. A report for the Harvard Business Review in 2012 found that half of CEOs admitted to feeling loneliness in their job, and that six out of 10 felt that these feelings of loneliness hampered their performance. The proportion rose significantly for first-time CEOs, who are particularly prone to feelings of loneliness.

When you’re a leader, loneliness is an inevitable part of the job. You’re not surrounded by friends; you’re surrounded by followers. Many leaders have talked of the difficulty (and inadvisability) of making friends at work – because one day, you might have to fire them.

I’d argue that there are two sides to loneliness. The first is the bone-crushing, performance-damaging isolation that some leaders feel at work. It’s not pleasant but it can be addressed if you’re prepared to recognise your feelings of loneliness, and do something about it.

At Space2BE we advocate strongly the need for leaders and aspiring leaders to have a sounding board, a confidant or a mentor. That’s not always possible within an organisation, which is why we often take on the role ourselves. It’s incredibly valuable to have to someone to talk to and to discuss ideas and problems with who is not part of your regular work circle – an objective ear, someone who understands and won’t judge.

Not all loneliness is bad however. The Christmas break is a time to reflect, pause and recharge. I’ve often heard leaders say that they’re ‘peopled out’ by the end of the year – that they’re worn down by the constant demands on their time. In that sense, making a decision to be lonely for a while can be a good thing.

Solitude (the positive flipside to loneliness) is a valuable thing when you’re a leader. It gives you time to think, to come up with new ideas, to reassess where you and your team or organisation are, and where you could go. One of the most difficult things as a leader is to create the time and space to reflect and let your mind wander, to make the right decisions and reignite your innovative side. Perhaps a week with the family or friends, long walks and no work pressure is just what you need.

Language… has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.

Paul Tillich