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Loneliness at the top: great, but deaf

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With every ascent, the air gets thinner and thinner. This is the case with mountaineers, but also with executives. Decision-making makes one lonelyis a bon mot. And it's true: the proverbial one Loneliness at the top - they really do exist. And the bigger the company, the thinner the air not only becomes, but usually also icier. The employees then approach their bosses with growing distance and increasing distrust of "those up there". Dangerous! Because with it a veritable information decree and feedback vacuum grow at the same time. The result: incorrect assessments, wrong decisions and loss of grip ...

Lonely top

Only recently did I start talking again about modern leadership in the age of digital transformation. Often at the top there is a rough idea for the future course, but little knowledge of the real situation in the company or the skills (and often more concrete ideas) of the employees. A wonderful one Breeding ground for mutual distrust, competing strategies and inefficiencies.

In addition, the approaching storm fronts are usually hidden from such executives. Then comes another oversized ego In addition, the employees are reluctant to meet such bosses with honesty and possibly unpleasant truths, but with respectful flattery, false admiration and measured to mock approval. Backstage but disaster has long been looming.

The proverbial loneliness at the top - it works like a creeping poisonthat it slowly spreads in the company and in the end poisons the working atmosphere and gradually degrades productivity and creativity. But is that a fate because of that? Not at all! As a future manager or on the way up, the Tunnel vision quite counteract this - by being sincere and critical feedback challenge and support from below ...

What leadership has to do with loneliness

So what makes a real leader? The American literary critic and former Yale lecturer William Deresiewicz sees one thing above all in true leaders: independent thinkers. People who think flexibly, creatively and independently. According to his research, these true leaders ideally master three important disciplines:

  1. Independent thinking. Anyone who constantly persists in consensus thinking in their social environment remains hidden from new approaches and innovative ideas. However, independent thinking requires the courage to defend one's point of view against external resistance - and the willingness to question and correct oneself.
  2. Concentrated thinking. In the long term, multitasking kills the ability to think. You just have to decide: either do ten things so-so or do one thing brilliantly. Anyone who is constantly and constantly distracted by others and others collects a lot of information, but only implements it superficially.
  3. Intense thinking. And with it time-consuming thinking. The first thought of these leaders is rarely their best, just the most obvious. Really good ideas take time, have to be reconsidered, renewed and expanded countless times, and require inspiration. New approaches in particular don't grow overnight.

As you have probably noticed, none of the three categories can be easily implemented in the professional world: solitary revolutionaries who always pursue only one thing and need forever to do it do not exactly correspond to the ideal of a successful career person and comfortable manager. Accordingly, according to Deresiewicz, the connection between leadership strength and (spiritual) loneliness shows why so few people become “real” leaders: Because it is an uncomfortable and difficult path. Difficult decisions are more likely to be made alone. The proverbial loneliness at the top - it's not an illusion.

Loneliness at the top: do you have open ears?

I have no problem with criticism - but I have to like it. The wonderfully cynical quote is from Mark Twain. Nevertheless, it sometimes seems as if many bosses have willingly adapted it - only without him cynicism.

Filtered feedback Management experts call the phenomenon that surrounds top management: the first floor - it often lives in a filter bubble in which the bosses only hear what they like to hear and think what they have always thought because the employees say, what you say.

But who only embellished feedback gets, not only stews mentally in its own juice, it also undermines any basis for (course) correction. Such a boss would only have one chance to find out what his team is really thinking: reading minds.

If you do not master this art (which we are now assuming cheekily), the following list is exactly the right one: It contains 25 thoughts that employees would never say in your face - but could have in their head. We left out rough insults and unfounded accusations. Instead, let's focus on the things that matter to you something different can - if you want ...

What the team might be thinking right now ...

  1. "Our former boss made everything a lot better."
    Of course, you shouldn't imitate your predecessor. But talk to your team about what went better or worse in the past. Copy strengths and weed out weaknesses - then don't be afraid of comparison.
  2. "They preach water and drink wine."
    What you ask of your employees, you have to broadcast yourself. Diligence, punctuality and willingness to make sacrifices are prime examples of virtues that you have to exemplify.
  3. "You haven't motivated me for a long time."
    Bosses often only notice an employee's internal resignation when it is too late. Work towards it with attention!
  4. "Your patchy feedback is of no help at all."
    Provide regular and constructive feedback to recognize special achievements and to draw attention to Schnitzer instead of just letting things take their course.
  5. "Even if you consider yourself the greatest: You are not infallible."
    Do not be a shame to admit a misstep in front of the assembled team. In doing so, you are not demonstrating weakness, but courage and a sense of responsibility.
  6. "My potential is completely misunderstood here."
    Often the most silent employees think this sentence. Pay your attention not only to the loudspeakers in your department, but also to the supposed wallflowers.
  7. "Your acting is so transparent."
    With all the seminars, tip lists and motivation books: Don't forget your authentic character. Permanent grins in the Klinsmann manner are transparent like Plexiglas.
  8. "You act like a movie star."
    Young or newly promoted bosses in particular often show off stylish suits and an expensive car. You can afford luxury - but don't rub it under your employees' noses.
  9. "With my advice we wouldn't have a lot of problems."
    Be open to your team's suggestions for improvement. Often times, different perspectives result in ideal solutions that you would never have come up with on your own.
  10. "We are such good buddies, I can allow myself to make mistakes."
    Your laissez-faire management style is so well received by the employees that work likes to be left idle? Stop it. If you have to, be a boss rather than a buddy.
  11. "A choleric like you belongs in the boxing ring, not in the office."
    It could also read “He who shouts is wrong”. The essence: shouting seems unbalanced and unprofessional; not strong and powerful. The sound makes the music. And so on.
  12. "In the end you can do less than me ..."
    Do not give the impression that your job consists of big speeches. Educate yourself, do the day's work - this is how you earn respect.
  13. "You always hang your flag according to the wind of the board."
    Put the interests of your team through from time to time instead of always cuddling up to the company management. Important: Of course, the team must be aware of your commitment in order to appreciate it.
  14. "The way you treat women (men) is so unfair."
    With all the love for Stromberg: Sexism really has no place in the office. This applies in both directions and also for subtle little things.
  15. "You always prefer your favorites ..."
    Nobody is protected from sympathy and halo effects. A good boss does not allow himself to be irritated by such a thing, but also knows about the strengths of unloved employees.
  16. "Why do you always put me in teams full of amateurs?"
    The right composition of a team is a fine art. Make a note of who delivers particularly good results with whom, and who does not get along with each other at all. You shouldn't force individualists into teams either.
  17. "You are an unsympathetic work machine."
    Soft skills are becoming more and more important. With a short small talk and a little personal interest, you gain sympathy points that guarantee you the support of the team.
  18. "You never take responsibility when a project fails."
    Football coaches also put themselves in the fan curve after defeats, and not just after 5-0 victories. Those who enjoy applause also have to endure insults.
  19. "This is all just a stepping stone for you."
    Even if your co-worker catches you here, don't let it show you. Your focus (at least externally) should be on the current job - even if a better one is already calling.
  20. "Your authoritarian style fits more into the Wehrmacht."
    In some phases, a certain rigor is helpful for productivity. However, overly tough office dictators have had their day according to today's understanding of leadership - stay fair.
  21. "You only see the team, never the individual."
    Make an effort not to blame mistakes made by individual employees on the entire team. Just as important: recognize special individual achievements accordingly.
  22. "Where are we going? Your objective is too vague ... "
    Discuss goals clearly and in detail. If you don't give a specific direction, they'll all meet at most by chance at the summit.
  23. "Unnecessary pressure doesn't make work any easier either."
    Don't be fooled about deadlines. Give as much time to work as you can instead of turning the office into a pressure chamber.
  24. "They are incredibly difficult to calculate."
    Be consistent in your actions. Erratic behavior irritates your employees. Even after seminars and innovative reading, don't forget your previous actions overnight.
  25. "You don't care about my development at all."
    Mentor your employees, show interest in your goals and objectives, and they will repay you with honest trust.

Why leaders should take loneliness seriously

At first glance, it is easy to dismiss loneliness at work as a problem for the individual employee or manager. But a meta-study, carried out by Julianne Holt-Lunstad from Brigham Young University in Uta and some colleagues, shows that loneliness can not only be a burden but also make you sick.

The evaluation of 148 studies shows a connection between loneliness - specifically: the lack of social relationships - and more frequent illnesses. A somewhat older study also shows that loneliness can even be contagious and negatively influence the behavior of other employees. Managers should therefore always try to counteract any form of loneliness.

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[Photo credit: Photographee.eu by Shutterstock.com]
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March 30, 2021Author: Jochen Mai

Jochen Mai is the founder and editor-in-chief of the career bible. The author of several books lectures at the TH Köln and is a sought-after keynote speaker, coach and consultant.

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