I rarely see this talked about, but it needs to be said: Being a leader can be an isolating experience in any career, especially when you’re an entrepreneur or CEO. Harvard Business Review actually published a survey in 2012 that showed half of CEOs feel lonely in their positions.
Many of us want human connection. The problem is, we focus so much on work that sometimes seeking connection becomes our lowest priority. Some may also tend to keep connections to their own teams at a minimum. I’ve talked to other CEOs about this, and they all have a similar complaint: Others just can’t relate to CEOs. We have our own subset of stressors that we worry about and feel no one else can understand.
I’ve worked on my own struggles with alienation during my years as a CEO, and I’ve learned the universal lesson that we can create human connection by sharing our vulnerabilities. It doesn’t matter if the people we talk to can’t directly relate. What matters is that by sharing our personal struggles, people can understand us better. For example, if a CEO hides their stressors from their team, they may come across as cold or reclusive. From the CEO’s perspective, they’re simply trying not to burden their team with any added stress. But from the team’s perspective, it seems like the CEO isn’t interested in getting to know them. All of this keeps the cycle of isolation on an endless loop.
How can we break the cycle? The answer is actually pretty simple: by communicating more with our teams. Think about it. When our teams understand us better, we naturally feel less isolated and more supported.
The truth is, to connect with your team and fight isolation, you need to build trust so you’re comfortable with cultivating those connections. To build trust, you can focus on three key areas: sharing your vision, sharing your mission and creating an inner circle.
Share your vision.
Every CEO out there has a vision of how the future of their company will look. Sometimes, we forget to share this vision with our teams until we need them to roll out certain projects to achieve the vision.
I get it. You don’t always have time to explain your vision in depth to everyone you work with. That’s OK. What I’ve found helpful is a book by Cameron Herold titled Vivid Vision. Herold explained that CEOs can create a vivid vision to get their teams on the same page and motivate everyone with the exciting future of the company. For my team, I created a document that outlines what I’d like our company to look like by 2022. Since sending that out, my team has been on the same page as me. When we start working on new projects, they can conceptualize why the projects need to be done, which keeps everyone motivated and excited with day-to-day work.
Share your mission.
Once you create a vision, your team will understand the “why” behind everyday operations. To really build that trust and connection, they need to understand the “how” as well, which is where sharing your mission comes into play.
Your company probably has a mission statement your team has heard. But your mission goes beyond that. Your mission also encompasses the processes you choose to employ each day. In other words, your mission is the vehicle that gets you from point A, the idea, to point B, the solution or goal.
So, how can your team truly understand your mission? In my opinion, the best way to present your mission to your team is through detailed work instructions and employee investment. When your team has a clear picture of your desired execution style, such as when they have a detailed document in front of them guiding them through a task, it’s easier for them to work toward your vision. And, they’ll feel more connected to you since they’ll understand your leadership qualities that much better after going through their own professional development journeys.
When your team feels connected to you, they’ll feel more comfortable being vulnerable at work, which will in turn make it easier for you. It’s a win-win.
Create an inner circle.
Finally, to really solidify those workplace connections, you can create an inner circle. To create my inner circle at my company, I’m always seeking out what I like to call “level 10 employees.” These are employees who work hard, stay loyal and remain dedicated. When I identify a level 10 employee, I make it my mission to keep investing in them.
Is there a new promotion opening soon? Then I find which level 10 employee would be best to fill it. Because I find people to mentor, I’m automatically opening myself up for deeper connections with my team, which ultimately combats the isolating feelings that come with being a CEO. My team feels comfortable sharing with me, and I feel comfortable sharing with them. It makes the overall experience at my office that much more positive.
My team makes my company what it is today. Without them, I would be nowhere. So, I’m glad to make personal, human-to-human connections with them each day. I hope you can implement these tips and make those deep connections, too.