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How to Find More Confidence & Support as a CEO

It’s lonely at the top.

This feeling is so commonly held by successful people that it’s become an idiom that speaks the truth for many executives.

A survey from RHR International found half of CEOs experience feelings of loneliness in their careers, 61% of whom believe that this feeling hinders their performance.

Here’s how to find more confidence and support as a CEO by investing in yourself as well as a team of confidantes.

Ways to Feel Less Lonely

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies concluded senior managers are lonelier inside and outside of work because of the demands of their role. This is especially true for executives such as CEOs who have no true peers at work.

While the top can be lonely, it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few things you can do to feel less isolated.

Change Your Mindset 

Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck has spent her career researching the growth versus fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe their skills are capped out. Those with a growth mindset believe they can always learn more.

When you change your mindset from fixed to growth, the world opens up. A growth mindset gives you permission to learn from everywhere and everyone. As Dweck writes, those in the growth mindset move away from “a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework.”

“Their commitment is to growth, and growth takes plenty of time, effort, and mutual support,” Dweck adds. 

Create a Common Vision

It’s tough to feel lonely when your team shares your vision, which is exactly what will bring employees closer to you, according to a survey cited in Harvard Business Review.

The survey found 72% of employees and 88% of those in senior roles want a forward-looking leader. With a more willing group of employees and executives, we’re willing to bet the top will look less desolate.

Get a Hobby

As an executive seeking excellence at work, you may also find value in seeking excellence outside of work. A great hobby or group activity allows for some playtime, which helps reduce stress and increase connection with others.

For example, a paper published in the Journal of Psychology of Science and Technology finds Nobel prize-winning scientists are 2.85-times more likely than non-winners to have an artistic hobby, such as acting, dancing, taking pictures, or even blowing glass. An outside hobby is a great way to play, master a new craft, and feel connected.

Reach Out at the Top!

Vistage members often tell us they feel less lonely after joining one of our groups. Once they’ve seen that other executives fight the same battles as they do, they feel validated. In the next section, we’ll explore how to build a supportive team of mentors, peers, and employees to help you navigate life at the top.  

People You Need on Your Team

Leadership is a journey that requires the right people on your side to help you reach the summit of your ultimate business milestone. No executive can reach the summit without a good team, whether climbing one of the world’s tallest mountains or striving toward the zenith of their career.

In 1963, Jim Whittaker was the general manager of Recreational Equipment Inc. and became the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest. He and a team of 19 people started their ascent in February. Along the way, some members chose to stay back due to sickness, injury, or fear of bad weather. Whittaker continued upward alongside guide Nawang Gombu.

By May, the two men were near the summit, but Whittaker and Gombu ran out of oxygen. They were now in danger, but they pushed upward and managed to reach the top. They looked out over the world for 20 minutes, Whittaker planted an American flag, then they began their descent.

Whittaker would likely not have made it to the summit without the help of the team or Gombu. They all challenged one another, and Whittaker met that challenge. Soon, he became the CEO of REI, which saw huge sales growth in the coming years.

Who should you have on your team as you climb the summit of leadership? Here’s our suggested list.

1. Executive Coach

By working with an executive coach, you will push yourself to grow while giving yourself the gift of mentorship. Executive coaches listen to problems and provide real feedback, something you probably can’t get at work.

Sure, an executive coach can’t be workday buddies, nor can they share the burden of responsibilities, but they can be a great guide. They’ve been there, done that. Every executive coach has made their share of tough decisions, likely experienced loneliness, and come out the other side to tell the tale.

Executive coaches can ask you unique questions that will help you reframe your challenges. Perhaps best of all, they can give you honest feedback, pointing out blind spots and potentially perilous traps along your journey.

2. Mastermind Group

Some of the finest minds in history rarely felt lonely at the top—instead, they reached the top and climbed higher. Why? Because they sought worthy peers to challenge and hold them accountable. This is called a mastermind group.

Peers are key to the success of these groups. When you open up about goals, problems, and loneliness to other executives, you can see that others have the same issues. Better yet, the other executives are willing to listen, provide advice, and hold you accountable to your goals.

3. Vistage Group

Vistage peer advisory groups bring together the best of executive coaching and mastermind groups.

When you attend a Vistage group, you’ll quickly get to know the executive coach. They will give feedback, listen to problems, and push you to be the best version of yourself. These coaches will also help expand the group’s horizons by bringing in outside experts.

Meanwhile, the other members of the group—each from different industries—will talk about their successes and struggles, including loneliness. This allows you to see that other C-suite folks, even in far-flung industries, experience your same fears, hopes, and dreams.

Vistage groups foster a powerful experience. They allow you to see that you’re not alone, and there are others on your same path.

4. Executive Team

Within your business, an executive team must be your climbing team. The executive team is there with you, working to meet high-level goals and ensuring that the business is moving in the best strategic direction. When you take the responsibility to build an executive team of high performers, you can place your confidence and trust in that team. 

Think about it like this: If Whittaker didn’t select the right team to climb Mount Everest, would he have been able to trust that his team could help him succeed in his mission? At a critical moment, when they were pushing to the top with no oxygen, all that was left for the climbing partners was the trust they had built, and that was what helped them prevail.

A great executive team is trustworthy and driven for success. They’ll be there to climb alongside you, especially when you’re facing the most arduous stretch of your leadership journey.

You should take great care when forming your executive team. You must be sure you can trust and honestly communicate with them. That’s because a strong executive team is more than just employees. Its members can make great decisions, give new ideas, and provide you with tough feedback. This will make work more interactive and far less lonely.

5. Talented Employees

You must have talented employees who will help you meet your company’s goals and make your vision come true. Executives who want to reach the top—both in their career and business—must hire and retain the best and brightest employees. 

As CEO, you want to be sure you have built a culture that values the continual development of your employees so that they have the ability and skills to support the objectives you set forth.

Find Your Community!

The journey to the top isn’t easy for CEOs, but the climb is possible with help and great resources. 

Finding More Confidence & Support as a CEO

Now you know how to build more confidence and support as a CEO. Though half of executives reportedly feel lonely at work, that leaves half who don’t. Those who don’t feel isolated likely embrace a growth mindset and have established a great support team.

Tags: Leadership
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Vistage Research Center publishes actionable, data-driven insights and expert perspectives from our global community of CEOs and thought leaders. Led by Joe Galvin, Chief Research Officer