Is it actually lonely at the top or is it just a myth? Whilst on the exterior, today’s CEOs must appear confident and unwavering, even invincible, hence very few are comfortable in showing any vulnerability. Ironically many leaders will admit privately to suffering from imposter syndrome and fear that they will be discovered to be incompetent. We regularly speak with CEOs about the challenges associated with being a leader of a fast growing business, so for our second breakfast event in the series, the focus was ‘It’s lonely at the top’. We’ve written about this topic previously, referring to ‘skyscraper syndrome’, which you can read here.
Summarising the event, our CEO, James Segal said: “The breakfast sparked some really engaging conversations and debate, the sharing of best practices and hearing from other people about the problems and challenges they are solving in their businesses. We covered topics like management bias, tunnel vision, making big and critical decisions under pressure, and having little or no time to reflect.”
Throughout the breakfast, our attendees from a variety of different industries and backgrounds shared their insights and experiences. Here are some of the key insights from the session.
Stephen Hyde, a SynergyMode Advisor, with extensive experience within the Retail, Education and Distribution industries, picked out the concept of tunnel vision and how it can be both a good and bad thing, but it’s important to retain focus.
“It was interesting to see how similar the challenges were regardless of the size of business. The tunnel vision concept is an interesting one, both good and bad. Is the tunnel taking you to the other side of the channel, or is it not taking you anywhere? I think the challenge for you as a leader is to communicate where you are going. The important thing is keeping focus, or seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and not taking any branches off.”
Drawing on her expertise as Managing Director of Pumpkin PR, Maureen Cornish suggested how it’s important to get outside influence to get new inspiration. This was especially relevant during this breakfast session where so much great advice was shared.
“It’s always great to get some outside influence to give you some new thoughts, ideas and inspiration. It can be lonely at the top, that’s why it’s important to get out there and get some other voices.”
It is all too often we can get caught up in the numbers of our own business and making sure that revenue graph is up and to the right, we end up forgetting about not-for-profit businesses. We were lucky to be joined by Lauren Seager-Smith, CEO of Kidscape, a charity dealing with child safety, to help us see things from a unique perspective. Lauren touched upon how although she works in a very different type of business, she still shares some of the same challenges as other CEOs.
“It’s been extremely helpful and encouraging to be here today with other leaders in their field, and coming from the charity world I learn so much by spending time with people who work in different areas of work, such as business. But, what’s been most encouraging is finding that actually we are all grappling the same issues and challenges. I’ve really enjoyed hearing fresh perspectives that I can take away to my work and share with other people in the charity sector.”
This session was also a good opportunity to speak with another C-Level executive, Jon Evans, currently CMO at System1 but previously of Brewdog and Lucozade Suntory. Jon found it surprising as he moved into a senior position that he felt so isolated and felt there was no one to consult.
“The really surprising thing when you get to a senior position in an organisation is how lonely you feel. It’s a weird feeling but you get to a point where you feel there aren’t many people around you who understand what you’re going through, have been in this position, or know what to do, and sometimes you can get a bit paralysed by that sense of not being able to consult with people. So an event like today gives us a chance to connect with other people in a similar place and just share notes on how they faced certain things.”
We’ll round off with some final thoughts from two of our advisors, David Wilkinson who has extensive experience of working closely with entrepreneurial businesses and Ed Jones, with vast experience within finance, strategy and risk management. David emphasised the importance of collaboration when being senior in a business and how helpful these breakfast sessions can be to share experiences. Ed touched upon how everyone does the same thing, but slightly differently, and it’s important to understand the nuances.
“People come from a variety of different sectors and backgrounds but find out that actually they’ve got many of the same issues and problems. The ability to share those and find out how other people are solving them is hugely valuable. For me, big decisions in business are best made in a collaborative way and this is a great example of sharing collaboratively the way in which people make decisions.”
One of the areas I’ve most enjoyed is how do you find time to actually stand back and think? It’s really interesting to hear the different perspectives of how people do it around the room, and I’ve taken a number of valuable things away on how each of us is doing the same thing but slightly differently.”
Concluding the event, James said: “For me, the best discussion point today was around tunnel vision and the impact it can have on your business. It can lead you off on a tangent quite quickly, wasting time and money, as well as demotivating yourself. The other point was on management bias. Are your team holding something back, are they telling you the full truth? You are their boss at the end of the day. Do everything you can to have that objectivity, because inevitably people are holding back and they can’t say exactly what they feel to their boss.”
We run our CEO breakfast roundtable sessions every month, so if you’re a CEO or Managing Director and you face some of these challenges mentioned or in fact any other challenge, get in touch with James at SynergyMode to find out about the next session.