Shattering the ‘Lonely at the Top’ Myth: The Power of Peer Connection and Insight

It’s lonely at the top but it doesn’t need to be that way. Even the senior-most leaders can tap into the wisdom and insights of others, there just needs to be the right framework in place to foster trust and connection first.

The “lonely at the top” concept has been a pervasive belief for quite some time, and I suppose it makes sense. The higher one climbs, the scarcer the roles. When scarcity presents itself, human instinct tends to move itself toward protection, be it team, territory, or ego. The armour comes up, the defenses are in place and the shields are impenetrable. It sometimes seems that as leaders progress to more senior roles that their willingness to trust peers has an inverse relationship with their positional level. When the stakes and politics are high the ability to receive the ideas and insights of others will often be lower.

Is this ideal? Definitely not.

Armoured-up leaders often suffer from “smartest person in the room” syndrome, they can become entrenched in the plan of action. The game plan is clear. Until it’s not. And then the downside of myopic leadership really kicks in. Often in the form of a rapid descent down the corporate ladder.

How to change the pattern? How do we shift the experience of it being lonely at the top?  How do we ensure that leaders have the humility of accept expertise from peers and the generosity to share their wisdom in kind?

At The Roundtable, we know to maximize their impact highly effective leaders must tap into their wisdom PLUS that of peers and others and be willing to share their own.

Typical leadership development programs often lean heavily on imparting best practice research. The assumption being that everyone will adopt that “best practice” and then it will produce an organization of great leaders.  We call that magical thinking. It’s not reality. Often, when leadership “best practices” are taught in a traditional training format, the behaviour changes are not embodied, and the skills are not retained. It’s one person opining at the front of the room while the rest of the room is generally checked out.

What do we know works?

Skilled and experienced leaders don’t need to be lectured on best practices. Certainly, new insights from academia and experts can help inform opinions, but the reality is that the experience and insights of their peers is much more relevant.

Here are three things to consider when developing leaders

  1. Create an environment that focusses on the person first and treat the toolkit of leadership skills as a secondary win. Whole person learning takes leaders on a much deeper journey inward to truly understand their values, their strengths and those things that make them authentically and uniquely skilled. The experience of understanding their authentic and purposeful selves shifts mindset from scarcity to certainty because there is an expanded awareness that their “secret sauce” is uniquely theirs, there is no risk to contributing to the growth of their peers.
  2. Neutralize competitive threat with expanded thinking frameworks. When leaders are provided with expanded thinking frameworks and engaged in rich conversation rather than best practices and lectures, we find they better able to generate deeper meaning and connection that translates back on the job. And perhaps more importantly they can contribute to the learning of those around them in a richer way. When leaders experience there is not “wrong answer”, just a different perspective, a piece of armour falls away. It allows them to authentically contribute their own insights with generosity to their peers.
  3. Connection before content. Underscore and highlight the unique strength of each leader in the peer group. This appreciation for the unique differences means that leaders are more readily able to share and learn from each other. It creates a complex ecosystem of learning rather than a static best practice model of leadership.

There’s a better way to drive deeper conversations and shift the narrative from “lonely at the top” to driving collective impact. Reach out if you’re interested in connecting on how we do what we do for groups or for executive coaching, we’d love to chat.

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