Working as a member of a great team to achieve a common goal can be a fulfilling experience. There’s comradery, commiseration, and even inside jokes that bind everyone together.
Then, you take on a leadership role, and things begin to change. Conversations shift and relationships change as you begin to separate from the collective, a dynamic which can quickly leave you feeling isolated and confused.
Changing Relational Dynamics
I wrote recently about the unexpected cost of leadership, and the aspects people often aren’t prepared for when they begin their journeys. There will be moments when it will feel as if every friendly conversation has an agenda or a request buried within it. There will be days when it seems like everything you say gets misunderstood or misrepresented. The relationship between a leader and a team member is, by its nature, different from one between two team members.
As we wrote in our book, Would You Work for You? – The Quest: Discovering the Leader Within, “Through the years, we’ve heard many leaders processing the changing relational dynamics. Casual actions or spoken words suddenly become fodder for second-guessing or ridicule. You soon come to the understanding that every step and every action must be preceded by a thoughtful consideration of how it will be perceived by others.”
People look at you differently when you’re someone who can step up and take care of things. The way they interact with you changes and, as a result, the ways you interact with them need to change as well.
Think Before You Speak or Act
Where you might have previously allowed yourself to make offhand statements or observations, as a leader you need to be more intentional. Your words will always come back to you. If you write something down in an email, you might as well print it on the front page of the newspaper.
Though you might consider a conversation to be casual or off-the-cuff, people will use your words as a reference and hold you to them. Don’t speak in the heat of emotion. Don’t allow yourself to make things up as you go along. Don’t slip into the less intentional modes of conversation that were so simple before you were a leader. And, be extremely careful about what you post online. Each word counts.
“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” — Ambrose Bierce, writer and journalist
The same principles hold when you find yourself in a hole or a difficult situation. Don’t keep digging. Don’t double down or respond rashly, because doing so will only make the situation worse. Instead, practice intentionality. Own the problem, face it, and work your way forward.
Changing the way you interact with people into a more deliberate style might feel as if it only adds to your sense of isolation, but it’s absolutely necessary.
Develop Your Own Support Circle
As a result, you do need a group of people with whom you can speak honestly, express your concerns, and be yourself. Going it entirely alone is a bad plan, one which will slow your growth and cause you to overlook your own blind spots.
Assemble a group of people you can turn to for advice, who will speak the truth and support you through difficult times. Gathering these advisors will allow you to lead wisely. You’ll be able to have touchstone conversations — verifying your perception of situations and weighing the strength of your decisions. It will also lessen the sensation that you’re entirely alone in your leadership.
“Asking for help does not mean that we are weak or incompetent. It usually indicates an advanced level of honesty and intelligence.” — Anne Wilson Schaef, clinical psychologist and author
The View Is Clearer from up High
There’s no cure for the loneliness that comes with leadership, but there are ways to prepare for it and ensure it doesn’t overwhelm you. Consider that the reason you might feel alone from time to time is because you’re engaged in the act of distinguishing yourself. You’re climbing up onto a hill, rather than remaining immersed in the crowd. Your new vantage point will enable you to see further and effect greater change than you would from below.
Want more tips to help you prepare for your leadership journey? Download our free eBook today.
Author, Speaker, and Change Agent.
Chris leads a dynamic team of passionate change agents who are dedicated to partnering with organizational executives to create cultures that inspire, engage and ignite the best in people. Our work is dedicated to harnessing the power of culture to equip leaders, build amazing teams and align operation practices to delighting the customer and drive breakthrough results.