If you are transitioning into an executive or leadership role in an organization, you can find yourself dealing with incredible loneliness. You also deal with a change in power dynamics, gaps in information, and a lack of support systems. It is difficult to prepare for the change from “getting work done” to being an “influencer”. As a former COO, today’s guest, Suzan Bond, understands the struggle of the transition. She joins me today to share some ways you can combat loneliness and ease the transition.
Suzan is an executive coach and organizational strategist who has spent over a decade in technology. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company where she writes for the Work-Life section—covering leadership, personal effectiveness, and productivity. She has an educational background in psychology, organizational behavior, and community organizing. She received her coach certification from the Coaches Training Institute.
Suzan points out that many managers and leaders aren’t prepared for the transition into an executive role. They go from deriving their value from the work they’re able to complete and suddenly have no direct impact. Instead, they must learn how to influence others, essentially working through other people. This process can lead to a struggle, a feeling of a loss of control or perceived power as they’re pushed outside of their comfort zone.
Suzan believes that you must acknowledge that you are making a significant transition—and you cannot underestimate the mindset shift you must make. On a basic level, you may be gaining autonomy or a pay raise. But you’ll also likely deal with long hours and significant demands on your time. You will be changing how you operate on many levels and must be mentally prepared.
Our culture has made a large shift towards being transparent and open about everything from how money is spent to sharing how much executives in a company make. But finding the right balance of transparency is a delicate balance—and often keeps leaders up at night. They question themselves: “Am I being open enough? Am I giving enough context”?
On a more complex level, they may desire transparency but be unable to give it due to legal issues or simply protecting employee privacy. Leaders are often criticized and misunderstood because they cannot share all of the reasons behind the changes they implement. It leads to a feeling of awkwardness as a leader.
People think you’re incompetent or label you as uncaring—and you simply can’t defend yourself. Whatever the reason, there are times you can’t share all of the information you have. All of this can exacerbate the loneliness you feel. To overcome this dichotomy, you must rely heavily on building a foundation of trust with your team.
As a leader, you have to actively work to build trust so when there are times you have to fall back on “trust me”—they do. It must be prioritized above “proving yourself” and implementing new strategies. Suzan recommends spending time doing a “listening tour”—actively engaging with people in your company to gather information and gain insight—and lend a listening ear. It helps you build a foundation of trust and learn how to connect within your organization.
With the high demand for openness and vulnerability, you must learn to find a middle ground. We are expected to be vulnerable while still projecting confidence, which is a delicate balance. Suzan and I agree that showing your humanity goes a long way—you don’t have to pretend to be superhuman when you’re not. She shares some simple ways you can project vulnerability in conversations, so be sure to listen.
Suzan shares some tips she believes will help ease the transition and combat the loneliness of the new role:
1. Establish a morning ritual (embrace solitude). Set aside time for yourself to process what’s happening in your organization, how people view decisions, and even how you’re communicating. Suzan’s preferred mode is writing with pen & paper—she’ll often have moments of clarity on issues she’s dealing with.
2. Build a support network. Reach out to someone on your executive team or seek out a coach that you can be open with. We all have confidential information floating around in our heads that we can’t talk about—it can be isolating. It’s one of the contributing factors behind starting this podcast.
3. Find a “best friend” at work: Gallup research found that higher employee engagement correlated with having a best friend at work.
4. Have a life and interests outside of work. Many leaders define themselves by what they do on the job. But you need to have hobbies and interests outside of work that ground you, bring you joy, and allow you to relax and relieve stress.
To hear our full conversation and other tips and strategies to manage a transition into leadership, listen to the whole episode. You’ll enjoy Suzan’s joyful personality and learn from her extensive expertise in the field. Also, be sure to look at the resources we’ve listed below for valuable insight—written by others who’ve successfully made the transition into leadership.