Being a leader often comes with a nice title, pay raise, and more freedom to control your schedule and responsibilities.
But there’s more to leadership than meets the eye. Here are three things nobody tells you about leadership:
It can be lonely
Leaders often have to make decisions no one else wants to make or do things on their own. It’s lonely at the top, especially as leaders carry the weight of their companies solo. Many leaders struggle to make strong personal connections and friendships at work because of their position, which can be draining and isolating. One survey found that half of CEOs experience loneliness on the job, which can hinder their job performance and lead to burnout. Paul Markovich, CEO of Blue Shield of California, told me it’s lonely because there are many tasks you can’t delegate and decisions that only you as the leader can make.
Leaders need to build a solid support system both personally and professionally to lift them up when the public pressure gets too strong. A strong support system provides clarity during stressful times and can help leaders step outside their role for a moment to gain perspective. Leaders also have to be mentally strong. Doug Parker, former CEO of American Airlines, told me that when things weren’t going well, he often had to sit alone in his car to get his mind right and pump himself up before going to work.
You work under a microscope
It’s never been harder to be a leader. With an increased emphasis on authenticity and transparency, all eyes are on today’s leaders. Every move they make is watched (and often shared) by employees, customers, and shareholders. We’ve all seen stories and social media posts sharing a leader’s gaffe and questioning their decisions. Many leaders report that there’s no room to breathe because they are constantly under the spotlight. Today’s leaders also have to balance taking a stand on issues with the fact that people who disagree can come after you with pitchforks.
Leaders must balance the need to be authentic and real with their employees while protecting some aspects of their lives. That means being humble, sharing your ups and downs, and being resilient to push through challenges. Leaders have to hold strong to their values and not be afraid of criticism for taking a stance on causes they believe in.
You’ll always have critics
No matter what you do, someone will always disagree. Leaders’ decisions are more visible than those made by others, especially with the increase in social media that increases transparency and gives doubters a platform to voice their opinions. But don’t let critics hold you back from making progress. Too often, leaders are afraid of the pushback to their decisions and hold off on taking any action — even making positive changes that would benefit the company and its employees.
Tim Ryan, US Chairman and Senior Partner at PwC, told me this: “The leader of today has a lot of people looking at him or her. The reality is that being able to handle the spotlight is a skill that is going to become more important. You will never please everybody, but you must always listen to people’s views without unraveling, be able to communicate effectively, course correct as needed, and keep moving forward.”
You’ll make big mistakes
No leader is perfect. With more responsibility comes bigger consequences and fallout when you inevitably make a mistake. No matter how skilled you feel as a leader, you are sure to make large, painful, and impactful mistakes. And with those mistakes comes public scrutiny and a need to pick up the pieces and recover from your mistake.
Growth comes from making mistakes. Strong leaders know how to weigh their options, listen to various opinions, and make well-informed decisions without wavering. But they are also resilient when they make mistakes. Jacques van den Broek, the CEO of Randstad, told me how he made an investment that ultimately cost the company $150 million. But from that experience, he learned perspective. After his mistake, Van den Broek was able to bounce back and ask clients how he could change and tailor his approach.
Why does any of this matter? Because your mindset makes a difference. As a leader, you have to be mentally strong to handle the increased pressure and scrutiny.
Even though being a leader has never been more difficult, it’s also never been more crucial. Great leaders can change the world and the lives of their employees and customers. Developing resilience and embracing the skills and mindsets to withstand the pressures of leadership can set you up for a successful career with a lasting impact.
In case you missed it, I just launched a subscription version of my podcast. Get ad-free listening, early access to new episodes and bonus episodes with the subscription version of the show The Future of Work Plus. To start it will only be available on Apple Podcasts and it will cost $4.99/month or $49.99/year, which is the equivalent to the cost of a cup of coffee.
Fast-track your path to leadership success with The Future of Work Plus. I can’t wait for you to hear all the content we have in store!