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Loneliness: An Under-Diagnosed Epidemic Among New CEOs
 

It's lonely at the top, according to a new survey that found fully half of all chief executives suffer from isolation and loneliness.

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When starting a business, many young entrepreneurs dream of the day when the enterprise has grown and they sit atop a successful company as CEO. This makes sense. CEOs are well compensated for doing a difficult, high-pressure job that's unlikely to get boring to even the most ambitious. But are there facets of the CEO experience budding moguls often overlook when they let themselves daydream?

According to a recent survey by consultancy RHR International, being the top dog at a company isn't all critical decisions and high-octane living. In fact, there's a little-discussed epidemic among CEOs--loneliness. The survey of 83 CEOs at public and private companies with annual revenues of $50 million to $2 billion found that fully half of the top executives reported feeling a sense of isolation that can potentially hinder their ability to do their jobs.

"The intensity of the CEO's job, coupled with the scarcity of peers to confide in, creates potentially dangerous feelings of isolation among chief executives. Fifty percent of all CEOs report experiencing loneliness in the role, and of this group, 61 percent believe that the isolation hinders their performance," says the study's release.

First-time CEOs are particularly affected, with nearly 70 percent of those who complained of feeling lonely in their post admitting their isolation negatively affects their ability to do their jobs. How so? Dr. Thomas Saporito, CEO of RHR, explains:

Particularly early on in their tenure, CEOs experiencing feelings of isolation are often grappling with the realization that in this role the stakes are much higher, and the burden much heavier, than what they could have ever anticipated. Self-awareness is critical to navigating through this. Yet it is precisely at this time when honest, transparent feedback about the CEO's performance and their impact on the organization is much less likely to come their way.

As a result, isolation limits opportunities for increased self-awareness--and blind spots are the enemy to effectiveness. It is very difficult to adjust or improve if the CEO doesn’t have trusted sources to rely on for holding mirror up to them and shedding light on their blind spots.

To counter the isolation Saporito suggests newly minted CEOs "find one or two trusted sources who will provide the CEO with unvarnished feedback." Trusted board members or peer CEOs can often play this role, according to Saporito. It's also helpful to keep the upsides of your position firmly in mind.

"It is important to remember that in exchange for feelings of isolation and loneliness, there comes an opportunity to build something enduring, that creates value and impacts the lives of employees and improves the communities in which the company works," says Saporito.

Do you find being the boss isolating, and if so, how do you handle it?

Last updated: Jan 20, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.
@EntryLevelRebel




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