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Loneliness. Exhaustion. Outside Insight. (#83)

The Confident Leader

Once when I was at a crossroads in my career, my wife received an amazing professional opportunity – open the San Francisco office of her Nashville VC firm. Thrilled for her, I questioned the move for me professionally given the uncertainty about my prospects. A mentor, Terry London, the CEO who had bought our startup two years prior, provided the perspective I needed to get unstuck. 

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.
— Proverbs 15:22

This Week’s Edition

“It’s lonely at the top” is not just a cliché. It’s a tangible experience for top leaders. Loneliness impacts leadership performance but seeking outside insight may provide relief. 

Clarify Your Thinking

50% of CEOs claim they are lonely. 61% of those CEOs believe that loneliness negatively impacts their performance. 70% of first time CEOs agree with this belief.  

Loneliness makes leaders exhausted, causing them to appear less approachable and committed to the organization, which further exacerbates their loneliness. 

What causes loneliness at the top? CEOs are constantly faced with complex challenges with uncertain outcomes. In some situations, the CEO doesn’t believe they can share their thoughts with the team. “I’m uncertain about the company’s future.” Or “I have some real doubts about the capabilities of my leaders.” 

When a leader is off the paved road and questioning their next strategic move, high levels of uncertainty can cause decreased leadership performance: unfounded risk aversion, rewarding outcomes instead of good decision making, and other coping mechanisms that can artificially stunt an organization’s growth

Our brains are wired for certainty. We are prone to pick the sure bet behind door #1 versus risking the unknown outcome behind door #2. We’ll even undervalue the potential unknown outcome behind door #2 in an effort to affirm our choice for certainty behind door #1.

Uncertainty leads to leadership doubt. Doubt changes a leader’s performance every time. 


Thoughts Lead to Actions

To combat uncertainty and loneliness, conventional guidance suggests that leaders need to:

  1. Accept reality

  2. Keep moving

  3. Seek support

Accept reality sounds like “suck it up.” Keep moving is hard to employ when a leader feels paralyzed. So, let’s focus on number three: Seek Support.

Cultivating a group of advisors can create a safe outlet to express concerns provided those advisors can be relied on to provide honest, unvarnished input. 

President Andrew Jackson’s informal group of advisors was mockingly called his kitchen cabinet. However, this type of advisory council was made more acceptable in contemporary times by President Kennedy who routinely sought out a wide range of non-traditional perspectives: historians, scholars, and former government leaders.

This type of council gives leaders the opportunity to create a community of advisors who are:

  1. Not emotionally invested in the outcome

  2. Can provide new and unique perspectives

  3. Not suffering from decision fatigue

  4. Better equipped to address certain areas as experts in their field

Outside insight is precious and valuable because it infuses fresh new perspective and thinking to arrive at better decision making. Who is your personal board of directors – a group of people with diverse backgrounds and experiences whom you can reach out to in moments of uncertainty and leadership doubt

Step 1: Make a list of people you trust. 

Step 2: Identify what each person can offer by way of expertise and experience.

Step 3: Enroll them as members of your personal board of directors, advisors whom you can call on as needed.

My former CEO, Terry, had life experience which gave him a unique perspective. He said, “Robin, go to San Francisco! It’s an amazing opportunity, an adventure. Things will work out.” He was right. We moved to San Francisco. I got a job. Those two years, before kids, were some of the best times we’ve ever had. Terry, thank you for your outside insight and being on my personal board of directors. 

Boost Your Performance

At age 21, Ben Franklin established the Junto Club in the fall of 1727. Twelve members convened weekly to discuss all manner of issues. They hailed from a variety of disciplines – a physician, mathematician, philosopher, geographer, botanist, engineer, and the like. Those conversations produced the public library, University of Pennsylvania, volunteer fire departments and more. What may the conversations with your group of advisors produce?

What’s Your Opinion?

Do you have a kitchen cabinet or a personal board of directors? Share with me at:

Don’t let doubt count you out. Have a confident week!

Robin Pou, Chief Advisor and Strategist

If this was helpful, feel free to share it with another leader who needs to defeat doubt and complete their confidence.

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What is “The Confident Leader”?

During the Covid-19 Pandemic, I began a video series called “Panic or Plan?” It was designed to equip leaders to navigate the doubt they experienced and to rise in the confidence they needed to lead during turbulent times. It took off. I then started this newsletter to equip leaders in the same fashion each week for the doubt that crashes across the bow of their leaderSHIP.

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