Leaders of the past have boasted only needing four hours sleep, being tough, emotion-void powerhouses. This needs to change. International Men’s Day has a mission to promote positive male role models for younger men and boys. With male resistance to opening up about mental health struggles, we hear from Neil Francis, CEO of Pogo Studios and author of The Entrepreneur’s Book about the effect loneliness can have on leaders.
“As a CEO, the feeling of isolation will be one of the biggest challenges they will have to face. The accepted and expected ‘public face’ of a successful CEO should ooze confidence, control, decisiveness and direction to clients, staff, other directors, shareholders, and investors. Therefore, it is understandable that any CEO could find it difficult to talk with key staff or their boards about their biggest problems and deepest fears. They don’t want to appear vulnerable.
A CEO will probably employ many people, work with lots of clients, attend lots of meetings, be asked to read many reports and proposals, and seem to be constantly on the phone or emails. And there lies the real paradox: despite being surrounded by loads of people and having teams at their beck and call, they will sometimes feel terribly alone. They may be always busy, in constant demand and interacting with other people, but this will give them a false sense of being connected. Trust me, they will have plenty of people to talk to, but few with whom they can really share the deep concerns, frustrations, and challenges that they are facing. And it’s this inability to share what they are really feeling that can create a huge sense of isolation.
Certainly, as a CEO, I use to experience loneliness. Don’t get me wrong, there are many brilliant benefits to being an CEO, and for me, they outweighed the downsides. But one of the downsides is definitely loneliness – the feeling that, at the end of the day, you have no one you can really open up to and have a completely honest discussion with about your fears, your weaknesses and the pressures you are under.
I can remember coming home, many times, and trying to articulate what I was feeling to my wife. I certainly was not lonely in my personal relationship – my wife was and still is, incredibly supportive in everything I do. But she found it very difficult to understand my feeling of isolation as a CEO – not because she was not empathetic, but because my challenges and problems as an entrepreneurial CEO were unique to me. Sometimes, when I felt lonely and like no one understood the real pressures I was under, who did I vent my frustration on? My poor wife!
And how did I try to manage that loneliness? Booze. I have never been one of those people who go to the pub on a regular basis. Even though I enjoy meeting friends over a few pints, my drinking was done at home. Having a drink as soon as I walked through the door was a habit I perfected when I was a CEO. Not only did I feel I ‘deserved’ it, but it was also the thing that, for a while, relieved me of my feeling of isolation and frustration that had built up over the day initially disappeared after that first drink, but it came back even stronger if I continued to drink, and then who was in the firing range? My family!
Now, I hope you’ll see that this is a difficult thing for me to put share, but I think it is very important to understand. The effects of loneliness on you and how you can cope with it as a CEO will be very challenging if you don’t have strategies and ideas on how to manage it.
The strategy that I used was I found a mentor – a former CEO – who I was able to share, in confidence, all my concerns, worries, and personal challenges. One of the many good outcomes of this was I was able to change my relationship with alcohol to a more positive one.
I want to encourage everyone to talk, talk, talk. I hope that as a CEO opening up about being lonely at work and having these issues, will open up the conversation for younger men who may be going through loneliness or mental health issues in their life and encourage them to talk about it with peers, employees, family, friends or specialists.”
Want to hear more from Neil Francis?
The Entrepreneur’s Book is available to buy here.
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