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Isolation. The Challenge at the Top.

Are you an executive or business owner?  Are you a leader with supervision responsibilities? If you are an executive, owner, or leader, you know the challenges come with the position’s opportunity.

One of those challenges is the sense of isolation, sometimes intense, that goes with the territory. Thanks to the current global pandemic, we all know more about the impact of isolation on a personal level than ever before.

Nobody wants to be isolated. People are just not wired for it.  You can get lost in it.  And it just doesn’t seem right for your job to keep you from relationships.  But it will, and it does.

At True Course, we guide executives, business owners, and managers to move from the dangers of isolation to a lifestyle of engagement, confidence, healthy perspectives, and nurturing habits.  They decrease doubt and worry and get the sense of belonging and esteem they need.  For them, the mantra “be more, see more, achieve more, and finish without regret” is reality.  It can be real for you, too.

If you are like most, you won’t realize the reality of isolation before it takes a big toll on your health, job performance, and relationships.  And, if you do realize it, you may not admit it.   Like most human beings, you’ll wait until the train of your life has jumped the tracks before you try to do something about the isolation.  You don’t have to wait to avoid the dangers.

  • Dangers of Isolation
  • What Creates the Problem? (7 of 18 causes)
    • Unique Job
    • The Always Steady Requirement
    • You Can’t Talk about It
    • Keeping Up Appearances
    • Under the Microscope
    • Power Over
    • Out of Touch
  • What to do about Isolation – Strategies


Dangers of Isolation

Dr. Philip Zimbardo, psychologist, and professor of social psychology emeritus at Stanford, speaks to this issue:

I know of no more potent killer than isolation. There is no more destructive influence on physical and mental health than the isolation of you from me and of us from them. It has been shown to be a central agent in the etiology of depression, paranoia, schizophrenia, rape, suicide, mass murder…

It’s important to note that isolation and loneliness are not the same.  But isolation can certainly create feelings of loneliness.

Isolation has powerful effects on a person.  It can

  • Hinder your
    • Performance
    • Affects Motivation
    • Engagement and your ability to encourage employee engagement
    • Decision-making
    • Ability to achieve your potential – Maslow’s theory of a hierarchy of needs suggests that if your needs for safety, belonging, love, and esteem are not met, you will be unable to reach your highest potential. Isolation hinders these needs from being satisfied.
  • Limit
    • Information exchange
    • Ability to learn vicariously (observational learning)
    • Opportunities for growth and challenge
  • Contribute to
    • Leading contributor to burnout
    • Low energy
    • Depression
    • Shorter life span
    • High blood pressure
    • Increased risk of neurological disease and limits cognitive abilities
  • Lead to
    • Consumption of high-calorie, high-fat diets
    • Sedentary lifestyle
    • Dangerous weight gain.
    • Feelings of helplessness
    • Higher stress levels.
  • Create a loss of touch with reality – We all have our versions of reality that need validity- testing through dialog and interaction with others. Leaders need to be accountable for the scrutiny of their thoughts. Isolation does not allow a robust form of this.


What Creates the Isolation Problem?

From the literature, experience, and common sense, I’ve identified at least eighteen reasons for executive isolation.  Here are seven:

  1. Unique job – Sociologists tell us that we are naturally drawn into homogenous groups – with people like us. It takes more work to relate to people who are not like us.As a leader in your business, you have unique positional power, responsibility, compensation, recognition, and autonomy.  Those in the rank and file don’t know how to relate to you in your position because they don’t have these things. They don’t understand what you face because they lack the information and perspective of your responsibilities. If you came up through the ranks, you might have had those relationships in the past, but no more.In your role as CEO or business owner, you have the same needs you’ve always had for contact, support, reassurance, a sense of safety, belonging, esteem, and capable sounding boards.  Now, your position at work denies you enough of most of these things.  It would be best if you had these things in order to stay healthy in every aspect of your being.  Without them, the negative impact is manifold.
  2. The Always Steady Requirement – You have overwhelming responsibilities (if you fail, it affects hundreds and maybe thousands). In the face of that responsibility, you feel the pressure to set the emotional tone and always appear positive, optimistic, calm, and in control. That’s unique.  No one else in your organization must do this, and this isolates.
  3. You Can’t Talk about It – A CEO or business owner can’t talk about some things with employees, not even their executive team. Sharing doubts or sharing too soon may set off rumors.  You can’t talk about making payroll, your fears and uncertainties, the stress you feel, the merger or acquisition in the works.  The inability to share these things is isolating.I tend to think that family and friends are not the best resources here for several reasons.  Go for a more objective, emotionally-uninvolved resource.
  4. Keeping up appearances – You feel the need to project an image that is tough, positive, calm, and in control, even though inside the emotions are raging and eroding your health. Who do you talk to about what’s going on inside?  When is it appropriate to be fully vulnerable and transparent with employees and colleagues?
  5. Under the microscope – Some executives maintain social distance as a matter of professional boundaries or professional distance to avoid alleged or certain conflicts of interest. This need for guarding makes for a greater sense of isolation and discouragement for the leader.
  6. Power Over – Leaders give direction and orders. They hold their employee’s evaluation, their paycheck, advancement, and ultimately their job. The possession and exercise of this power to make decisions employees may not understand isolates you.
  7. Out of touch – In the uniqueness of the role, CEOs and business owners can become so immersed in the job that they lose a sense of self. Precipitating the loss may be role conflicts, social problems, skewed priorities and time use, and lack of self-care.  This loss of self-identity and self-differentiation can lead to a sense of powerlessness, meaninglessness, and separation from the authentic self.


What to Do About Isolation – Strategies

Be honest with yourself – Recognize and acknowledge your isolation.

Don’t be the victim and don’t settle – Isolation may come with your job, but you need not be the victim of it or settle for the status quo.  Use the steps below to take responsibility and take charge of the situation.

Get a coach – A qualified executive coach can be a reliable, confidential sounding board for you.  You can be vulnerable, transparent, and unload.  Your coach will not judge you and will treat you with unconditional positive regard.  The coach brings an unbiased, listening ear, and because they don’t have a “horse in the race,” they work without agenda except for success as defined by you.

Assess and Develop Your Emotional Intelligence – You can learn to be more aware, authentic, expansive, resilient, and empowering.  These qualities don’t sound like isolation. All of these are competencies of emotional intelligence.  True Course can help you with assessment, training, and growth using world-class resources and concrete actions for developing these competencies.

Identify and Interact with Peers – Gather a small group of executives who are not in competition with your business and explore common victories and challenges.  A third-party facilitator, like a coach, can make this more efficient and meaningful.

Practice Extreme Self-Care – You must be in top shape to stand the stress of the job – physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, mentally.  If you are unwell in any aspect of your being, it affects every other aspect.

Get out of the Ivory Tower – Put a time on your calendar to socialize with people in your organization, in-person, by phone, or virtually.

Let people in – The ability to be authentic, full of integrity (same on the outside as inside), and appropriately vulnerable and transparent are character strengths.

Socialize strategically – A single person or a few people will not fulfill your needs as described above, so don’t expect it.  Strategize to structure your social relationships engage different people to address individual physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual needs.  Any single person may fulfill more than one need but cannot and will not fulfill every need.   Only a few of these will be at work.

Make appointments with yourself to spend time with people who can help with your isolation. Don’t wait for them to step up.  Take the initiative and make standing appointments with your coach, therapist, peers, and others who help you most.

“I don’t have time” is one of the most common excuses I hear from people for not improving their situation. If you take the time for this, you will multiply your productivity in the time that remains, have better relationships, better management of stress, and you’ll feel better.

Contact us today to start dealing with the issue you know is real – Isolation. We’ll help you design a strategy for doing your job well and managing the challenges that go with it.

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