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Conscious Leadership in Action: What To Do About Loneliness At the Top?

By 3p Contributor

By Aaron Kahlow

A common struggle I see with mission-driven entrepreneurs is that they feel super alone. “I should be happy about starting my company,” they tell themselves. “But it’s like there’s no one I can talk to who gets what I’m going through.”

I’ve been there — and it's tough. And especially when the pressure is on, there are a rare few who can truly understand your stress and aloneness. Tackling this challenge is no minor feat, nor one that has easy solutions. But there are ways.

We all need someone to talk to authentically and to whom we have the courage to show our vulnerable side. Part of the challenge is that our existing support groups — partners/spouses, friends, or colleagues — are not people we feel can truly understand our entrepreneurship challenges. Or perhaps we find ourselves not wanting to share with these people at this level because our past expectations and hang-ups with them get in the way of their delivering the support we need.

The next major hurdle is our own egos. As leaders and entrepreneurs, we are built into heroic figures who should be able to handle anything that comes our way and just "power through it" if necessary. And now, with no one around who we feel can understand our challenges and our feeling of not living up to this fictitious character in our heads, we hit a wall that does not allow the stress steam a release valve. It's dangerous.

What do we do?

The first tendency for many of us caught up in the self-created world of leadership stress and anxiety is to simply fall back on the sacrificial sword we so often use: the notion that "company comes first." This notion is, in the end, false, but because we have been led to hold this idea sacred as a rite of passage, we can turn it into a tool.

To have your company functioning at its highest level, you must be functioning at your highest level, a level where there is clarity about what is most important for the company so that you can see above the day-to-day happenings to the vision and direction the company’s success demands. A level where you stay calm and present with others — and not the faking-it kind of presence, either, where you are seething under the smile. You must authentically give your team the energy and confidence they need to succeed.

The fact that your company’s success is tied up with your mental health is reason enough for putting your own sanity first and seeking support. Even your board can agree with this notion.

Support, but where?

So where can you go to get support that feels valuable, safe, and deeply understanding of your needs as a leader and entrepreneur? Look to three key places.

1. Your peers: You probably know a lot of fellow leaders or people in your industry. Simply ask them out for lunch and start talking. If you begin to have a good, heartfelt conversation, maybe you make that lunch a weekly or monthly routine. Try a few folks out in this audition. I think you’ll like it.

2. Your community: Many of us belong to a church, sangha, or related spiritual group — or at least used to. If you don't, maybe go to one in your neighborhood or look for one online. Many of us in the mindfulness space have an intimate group of five to seven people that meets once a month simply to ask two questions:

  • What's worth talking about as a group?

  • What needs to come out of you?

Ask both questions from the heart, not the head. You’re not there to share philosophy or solve problems analytically. You'll find much more support if you re-engage or engage more deeply in existing communities.

3. A coach or confidant: There are very high expectations placed on those in this role that rarely get met, and many have not led the life you or I are seeking, so the advice is often very theoretical rather than based in deep experience. It can also be challenging in that a coach isn't playing the role we really seek: mentor. Yet because we so desperately want a mentor, we place them in an uncomfortable spot.

But finding a coach or confidant does seem to work for a lot of people, so my best advice here is that if the first or even second one you find doesn’t work, keep looking until you find one who does. In seeking a good fit, look toward the coach’s life experience to find one who can serve as mentor who has been there and done that.

Final reminder

To feel alone atop your organization is one of the most natural and common emotions for conscious leaders and entrepreneurs. It’s also one that needs your utmost attention and care. You need to face the feeling of being overwhelmed or burned out directly, and not just bury it after a private break-down or self-justified "Get over it, you're better than this" pseudo-pep talk. It will build up. And it will impair your ability to make good, clear-minded decisions. It also will severely affect your mental and physical health. So, make it a priority to find a solution. Your own happiness and joy, to say nothing of the success of the entire company, depends on your choice to courageously address any loneliness and fear you experience.

After founding and selling three successful companies in the online marketing space, Aaron Kahlow discovered the power of Zen mindfulness practice and turned his community building and entrepreneurial talents toward conscious leadership and sustainable business. In addition to his leadership role as Chief Expansion Officer at Conscious Company Media, he is the founder and CEO of Mindful Order of Being, a nonprofit that provides education and support for anyone seeking a better, more purpose-driven way to live. His mission is to help others turn mindfulness into a way of life that brings purpose, meaning, clarity, and greater joy.

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