I still hear that a lot. How lonely it is at the top. How difficult it is to remain a character-based leader. How it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it. Right? Well, as I said, not necessarily. Last night I was watching The Scent of a Woman for the umpteenth time. I like doing that. Some good movies or books reveal new details to me every single time I see them. This jewel is not the exception.
I noticed that in the scene where Al Pacino’s character defends Chris O’Donnel’s for his integrity, the audience busts into applause after he speaks. The silence of the rest of the session is broken by that sudden, spontaneous outburst. It’s like when audiences stand to applaud an artist on stage. You feel that pull inside you. You stand out of unity and awe at a breathtaking performance. No loneliness there. What seemed like a bad move, or a lonely path suddenly becomes a collective source of inspiration.
So, though loneliness is not to be feared, a better indicator that you are leading out of character might be the reaction you elicit from people when they realize what you’ve been up to. The only reason it is lonely at the top is because you have built your network as a pyramid, with you on the top and everyone else below. You have made that pyramid hard to climb and difficult to master. Is that really what is needed or does it reflect what you truly wanted out of leading?
Think community instead of power and you will be surrounded by supporters. Your biggest problem will be how to organize so that you are not swamped by requests or lose your way to ego. The need for community being evidenced by social media today is not a result of chance. It is human nature to want that. And it is great leadership to understand how a community can be built around taking a stand in the face of injustice or building a vision to improve quality of life, or including people in a worthy cause. It doesn’t even have to be grand. Just inviting and inclusive. It doesn’t have to be non-profit. There is a place in business for community, within organizations as well as in society at large.
Think service instead of advancement and you will go so much further! On the shoulders of great people. In the ranks of a moving crowd. Hand in hand, side by side. Build your network into a roaring crowd that is moving forward at a contagious pace. Change your vertical thinking to horizontal and see what happens. Don’t just take loneliness to be a necessary casualty. Do something. Build that pyramid top into a plateau, or better yet: move past it and step into the crowd below. There is no true leadership lost by being humble enough to do that.
Think standing for something instead of pushing for it and you will find your authority turns to wisdom. The kind that people want to heed. The brand of knowing that commands true respect and brings out the best in collaborators and foes alike. When you stand for a just cause or a clear vision, it shows. The more you hone that vision, the more it guides your decisions. The more you are decisive to stand for what you want to contribute to the world, the easier it will be to get compliance. So many people whine about incomplete delivery from their people. True leaders worry that they are on the right path because they know they will be followed. They raise their voice to make a point and need not scream or bully people into respecting that point.
The point is, when you make it to that top, make sure it is not a lonely place. And then, you might even feel cozy up there, your leadership stronger than ever. So what do you say? Is it lonely at the top?