It is a well-worn cliché of leadership that it’s lonely at the top. Prime ministers, presidents, generals and the stars of sport, stage and screen – not to mention chief executives – have all observed that the higher they climb, the more isolated they become. But need it be so? Today’s chief executive should be well supported by executive and non-executive colleagues from whom advice and counsel can be sought. Externally, there is no shortage of professional mentors or coaches who can ease the loneliness of command.
Based on conversations with numerous chief executives, chairmen and others, this paper examines the various constituencies to which a chief executive can turn and examines how those relationships can support the individual in the top job. Equally, we test why each of these relationships may be compromised in ways that impede true candour. Finally, we conclude that leadership is by definition isolating, and chief executives better get used to it.
As they say on Wall Street: if you want a friend, get a dog.