The loneliness of leading is oft-described; few people speak wisely about the loneliness in every individual. This is critical for leaders to understand.
The people you encounter are desperately lonely, at least in certain seasons of their life. Henry David Thoreau touched on this in his classic book, “Walden”:
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.
The human condition is a constant struggle in this dimension:
We long for intimacy, and are terrified of it.
We crave connection, and fear being exposed.
We want to be known, and our default is to hide.
We are expert mask-builders and mask-wearers.
There is no formula for dealing with lonely people. Efforts to “fix” them will fail. My counsel:
- Recognize in your own assessment that loneliness will affect a person’s performance over time. It will be difficult to quantify, but it is non-zero.
- Use this recognition to help you work with people with appropriate toughness (“This needs to get done with this standard of quality.”) and tenderness (“I understand today is the anniversary of your dad’s passing.”).
- Don’t expect a highly charged, energized, engaged work team to be a substitute for an individual’s needs for connection.
What thoughts do you have about the loneliness of people you are leading on your team?