Leaders Need Support, Too

“It’s lonely at the top” is something we’ve heard a lot.  It implies that leadership – especially senior leadership – can be at times isolating.  And I have seen this first-hand, with some leaders I’ve worked with, consulted with, or coached. 

One senior leader once said to me that they were feeling less and less connected to their staff, and found themselves second-guessing if people around them were being authentic or only being nice to them to win their favour. 

We expect a lot from our leaders, and rightfully so.  Research has shown (and we see it every day) how much the quality of leadership can impact the employee experience.  How much though, do we think about how leaders need our support, too? 

I was listening to the insider podcast for the hit show “Better Call Saul” last week.  The podcast was about the show’s latest episode, which was directed by one of the show’s leading actors, Rhea Seehorn – a first-time director on the award-winning show.  Seehorn, who was not widely known prior to being cast on this show, has gained popularity and rave reviews playing the character Kim Wexler.  And this season, she was given the opportunity to direct her first episode. 

Directors take on a big leadership role on a TV production.  They are responsible for envisioning and executing on an episode of a program from script to screen – a big responsibility that also includes making sure they create a good working environment for all people involved.

On the podcast they were interviewing Seehorn about her experience directing for the first time.  What she said really struck me:  “If I had passed out on the first day and said ‘I can’t do it!’ that crew would have directed the episode and put my name on it in a heartbeat (laughs).  It’s like walking around with mattresses around you, like they would not let me fall, there’s not a chance.  But they did make sure they were my decisions – they’d never let it not be my episode.” 

It was so heartwarming to hear her talk about how supported she felt by her crew.   She stepped up, took on a leadership role, and the people she had been working with for the last 6 years did all they could to make her feel supported – including those who ordinarily were her peers. 

How great it must be, as a leader, to feel supported like that.  Sometimes we take for granted how hard their jobs are and we watch to see if they will succeed or fail.  We always expect our leaders to check in with us, but how much are we checking in with them, to see how they’re doing, and if they can use our support?  We like to hear them say that they’ve got our backs.  How much do we let them know that we have their backs, too?

I think it’s fair to expect a lot from our leaders.  And it would be great if they can feel supported by us, too.  They don’t have to feel like they are surrounded by mattresses – but we could let them know that they are surrounded by people who want them to succeed and who are there to support them.

And one more thing, if you are a leader who is feeling “lonely at the top”, know that showing vulnerability is not a sign of weakness.  It is an effective way to build trusting relationships with your teams.  If you’ re feeling detached or disconnected, reflect on ways to show your vulnerability as a leader.  These may include:

  • Being comfortable saying “I don’t know”.
  • Asking for help when you need it.
  • Seeking others’ feedback.
  • Admitting when you’ve made a mistake.
  • Inviting other perspectives, especially from those who disagree with you.

And of course, supporting other leaders around you.  Because like you, leaders need support, too.

Kwela’s Leading Self and Emotional Intelligence and Authentic Communication courses can help you to learn more about yourself and how to express yourself authentically.

Laura Villacrusis, Senior Consultant