The Silent Struggle of Loneliness Among Business Leaders

Loneliness among business leaders, including CEOs, is a significant issue that often goes unnoticed. Despite being surrounded by teams and employees, many leaders can experience feelings of isolation due to the unique pressures and responsibilities of their roles.

I have spoken with many CEOs on this subject, and these are some factors contributing to feelings of isolation:

Decision-Making Burden

CEOs and other leaders often bear the weight of making tough decisions that can impact the company, employees, and stakeholders. This burden can lead to feelings of isolation, as they may feel they have few peers with whom they can discuss these decisions openly and candidly.

Lack of Peer Support

While leaders may have colleagues and peers within the organization, they may hesitate to open up about their challenges and vulnerabilities due to concerns about appearing weak or incompetent. This can create a sense of isolation and loneliness, as they may feel they have few people in who they can truly confide.

Work-Life Imbalance

The demanding nature of leadership roles can result in work-life imbalance, leaving leaders with little time for personal relationships and social activities outside of work. This can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation, as they may struggle to find time to connect with friends and loved ones.

High Expectations

Leaders are often held to high standards by their employees, board members, shareholders, and other stakeholders. The pressure to meet these expectations can be overwhelming and can contribute to feelings of loneliness, as leaders may feel they have to project an image of strength and confidence at all times.

Public Perception

CEOs are often seen as figures of power and success, and there's a common perception that they lead glamorous and fulfilling lives. Discussing feelings of loneliness can challenge this perception and may not align with the public image they want to maintain.

Perceived Stigma

There's often a stigma attached to admitting feelings of loneliness or vulnerability, particularly in leadership positions. CEOs may fear that acknowledging their loneliness could be interpreted as a sign of weakness or incompetence, so they may be hesitant to discuss it openly.

The Need To Talk

The silence surrounding CEO loneliness highlights the need for greater awareness and understanding of the mental health challenges faced by business leaders. Encouraging open dialogue and providing support for CEOs to address their feelings of loneliness can help create a healthier and more supportive work environment.

Recently, we held our Spring Conference in The Hague which aimed to ignite creativity, foster collaboration, and empower our teams to drive meaningful change.

Our conference provided a unique opportunity for colleagues from different counties and disciplines to come together, share perspectives, and collaborate on projects. Through interactive workshops, team-building exercises, and cross-functional brainstorming sessions, we gained a deeper understanding of each other's roles, strengths, and challenges. This collaborative spirit laid the foundation for future partnerships and synergies across the organization.

Spotlight on Employee Innovation:

At the heart of our conference was a celebration of innovation. We discussed our latest projects and initiatives aimed at improving processes, and delivering consistently outstanding results to our clients. The breadth and depth of talent within our organization was on full display, inspiring us all to push the boundaries of what's possible.

Driving Alignment with Company Strategy:

Effective communication and alignment around company goals are essential for driving collective action and achieving meaningful results. Throughout the conference, our company's vision, mission, and strategic priorities were reiterated, providing clarity and direction for us all. Interactive sessions allowed us to map our projects and initiatives to overarching business objectives, ensuring that everyone was aligned and working towards a common purpose.

Fostering a Culture of Innovation:

Innovation thrives in environments where creativity is encouraged, failure is viewed as a learning opportunity, and experimentation is celebrated. Our conference served as a catalyst for nurturing such a culture within our organization. Through thought-provoking discussions, and hands-on activities, we were encouraged to embrace a mindset of curiosity, resilience, and adaptability, laying the groundwork for future success.

Our internal conference was a resounding success, fueling excitement, creativity, and collaboration across our organization. As we reflect on the insights gained and connections forged, we are energized by the possibilities that lie ahead.

Armed with new ideas, skills, and perspectives, we are ready to embark on the next phase of our journey, united in our commitment to driving innovation, delivering results, and shaping a brighter future for our company and clients alike.

We are looking forward to our Friisberg Spring Conference in The Hague and what will be an incredibly busy few days.

Maarten van de Sande and his team, from our office in The Netherlands, are hosting this conference with Partners from our local offices are travelling from all over the world to participate in the event.

Our Conference is not only about learning and development, but also about reflecting on what we have all, individually and collectively, achieved over the past 6 months, and taking some time to enjoy the experience, socialise with friends and meet new ones.

It is fabulous to be a part of the FPI team.

We are very grateful to have spent time with Sonia Deasy, Co-founder of Pestle & Mortar, from Kilkenny, Ireland.

Pestle & Mortar continues to enjoy phenomenal success globally for more than 10 years.  A family business,  built on Indian traditions and heritage, Sonia shares her story here as an entrepreneur and an advocate for following what she believes in.

How would you describe your business?

Simple, effective skincare.

How would you describe the values and culture of Pestle & Mortar, and what’s important when adding to your team?

 At Pestle & Mortar, we blend the ancient wisdoms of Indian natural healing with cutting-edge science to create simple solutions for beautiful skin. The belief that skincare shouldn’t be complicated drives us to create and innovate simple solutions for beautiful skin, so that everyone can look and feel their best.

To this end, we invite people into a culture that values creativity, community, customer-centricity, and authenticity. Pestle & Mortar began in 2014 with just two people and one skincare product. We’ve grown to a team of 30 and we’re represented in over 21 countries across 5 continents. That didn’t happen by accident or luck. It happened because we intentionally hire people who share our values.

Looking ahead, how do you plan to develop your company culture and leadership structure as you grow?

As we grow, our focus will be on fostering a constructive communication style between leaders and team members, and ensuring that our foundational values are embedded in every aspect of our operations. We plan to invest in leadership development programs that empower our team members to take on new challenges and responsibilities. We are committed to prioritising leadership development, coaching and culture, especially through challenges and transitions, so that our team remains resilient and motivated. Our goal is to foster an environment where every team member feels valued, heard, and motivated to contribute to our collective success, so that Pestle & Mortar continues to thrive as a leader in the skincare industry.

Can you share a memorable story or milestone in your journey?

A major milestone for Pestle and Mortar is what I call my ‘New York’ story!

Less than 1 year after we launched the brand with our Pure Hyaluronic Serum, we got an opportunity to do a Skype interview with Courtney Rubin, a freelance journalist who regularly gets published in the New York Times. She wanted to write specifically about Hyaluronic Acid as an ingredient in skincare. She was particularly interested in the science behind Hyaluronic Acid, which occurs naturally in the body, and is responsible for creating fullness of appearance and maintaining skin hydration. Her piece in The New York Times was to be called ‘The Second Coming of Hyaluronic Acid’.

So, at 10pm on a Saturday night in May 2015, I found myself on a Skype interview with Courtney Rubin. I had prepared extensively, because I knew this interview was potentially a New York Times piece, which could lead to a sizable slice of the New York market. The interview went well, I thought, so I sat back and waited to see what would come of it.

That was May 2015. Nothing was published in the subsequent six months. I was so disappointed and disillusioned. Padraic urged me to chalk the whole thing down to experience, but inside, I was frustrated and my confidence was knocked. I wanted the US to happen for us, and this interview was the springboard. I decided to stop thinking about it.

Life went on as normal until lunchtime on December 30th, when Courtney’s article was published in the New York Times!

 That day alone, we sold thousands of units of Pure Hyaluronic Serum across the US, and sales from that one article continued for the next 20 days – we sold out worldwide!

 It was a significant milestone for us very early on in the journey.

Thank you Sonia, it’s great to see how Pestle and Mortar are growing while staying true to what your beliefs.

Are You One Person at Work and Another at Home?

It occurred to me that all too often we find ourselves navigating the delicate balance between our different roles and identities. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the dichotomy between our professional and personal lives. For many, the transition from the workplace to the comfort of home represents a shift not only in physical location but also in demeanor, values, and identity.

The phenomenon of being one person at work and another at home is often part of modern life, impacting individuals across diverse cultures and professions. This duality can manifest in various ways, from differences in behaviour and communication styles to distinct sets of values and priorities. I believe that understanding and reconciling these dual identities is essential for maintaining authenticity and well-being in both spheres of life.

At Work: The Professional Persona

At work, we often adopt a persona shaped by the demands of our role, organizational culture, and societal expectations; this persona is typically characterized by traits such as confidence, competence, and professionalism. We often adhere to workplace norms, protocols, and hierarchies, striving to present ourselves in a manner that aligns with perceived standards of success and professionalism.

The professional persona is often marked by a focus on performance, achievement, and the pursuit of career goals and so we often choose to emphasize traits and behaviours conducive to success in our respective fields, such as assertiveness, decisiveness, and strategic thinking. This compartmentalization of identity allows us to navigate the complexities of the professional world effectively, leveraging our skills and expertise to excel in our chosen professions.

At Home: The Authentic Self?

Conversely, at home we are often our authentic self, free from the constraints of the workplace. Here, we have the freedom to express our true thoughts, emotions, and vulnerabilities without fear of judgment or repercussion.

At home, we may exhibit a different set of traits and behaviours compared to our professional persona. We may prioritize qualities such as empathy and vulnerability, nurturing our relationships with loved ones and fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance. The home becomes a sanctuary where we can recharge and unwind.

Navigating the Interplay

While the distinction between professional and personal identities can be necessary, the interplay between these two spheres can present challenges and conflicts. Striking a balance between professional obligations and personal well-being requires conscious effort and self-awareness. We must navigate the boundaries between work and home, ensuring that neither domain encroaches upon the other at the expense of our overall happiness and fulfillment.

Moreover, the pressure to maintain disparate identities in different contexts can contribute to feelings of dissonance, imposter syndrome, and burnout. The disparity between one's professional and personal selves may give rise to feelings of inauthenticity or alienation, leading us to question our true identity and purpose. In such instances, fostering alignment between our values, aspirations, and actions becomes paramount in achieving a sense of wholeness and authenticity.

Embracing Authenticity

Ultimately, the journey towards integration and authenticity involves embracing the full spectrum of one's identity, encompassing both professional and personal dimensions. Rather than compartmentalizing different aspects of the self, we should strive to cultivate coherence and congruence across various domains of life.

Ideally we should honour our values, passions, and aspirations in both professional and personal contexts, fostering a sense of integrity and authenticity in all endeavors.

Moreover, organizations can play a pivotal role in supporting employees' holistic well-being by promoting workplace cultures that value authenticity, work-life balance, and psychological safety. By fostering environments where we feel empowered to bring our whole selves to work, organizations can enhance employee engagement, productivity, and overall satisfaction.

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.

Are you ready to capitalize on it?

The workforce now consists of three generations of employees which is something previously unseen in the corporate world.

Older generations are impacted by increasing pension age, oftentimes delaying retirement, meanwhile the millennials continue to enter the workforce; in fact, they already make up a significant chunk of it. To make things more complex, COVID made its mark on values and expectations of different generations - not to mention the technology-centric environment that is here to stay.

This 'new normal' affects recruitment options and opens new opportunities to capitalize on age diversity.

Various studies have noted that leaders of different ages bring different skill sets and know-how to the table. Diversity helps to improve discussions, foster innovation and facilitate creative problem solving. And it's not just skills but also networks and viewpoints that are complementary. As a result, age diverse teams can better reflect the needs of larger consumer segments.   

The strengths and weaknesses of different generations clearly offset each other.  

Perceived receptiveness towards innovation, high energy and eagerness to learn mean younger leaders often prevail over the perceived lower energy, often fixed attitudes and questionable technological literacy of their older counterparts.  

It seems obvious that knowledge of experienced generations combined with a fresh take of younger ones produces better results. But how to get the mix right?

Different attitudes towards remote work, preferred styles of communication, respect of hierarchy (or absence of it) are the key pitfalls faced by the age diverse teams.  It can lead to serious trust, collaboration and miscommunication issues which then result in lower productivity.

Inclusive leadership is the future.

Every organization is unique, so are the markets in which the organizations operate. For example, Central and Eastern European companies usually have rather young management boards and need to attract older talent from the West.

The way forward may lie in embracing the culture which celebrates the strengths of different generations. The challenge is to find a formula that employs generational differences for the benefit of the organization. For example, adopting a decision making approach where the preference for very fast and reactive decisions is combined with well thought, double checked, experience based attitude.  Also, embedding training and mentorship programs to ensure the knowledge transfer becomes a necessity.  

Friisberg & Partners can help your company by encouraging age diversity through implementing inclusive hiring practices.

We work with you to create an environment where individuals of all ages feel valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives and experiences.

“Decision making is the specific executive task”

Peter Drucker

Timely and effective decision-making on management level is a key factor driving the performance of a business organization.

Deciding about strategic choices, or solving operational challenges, is a complex skill relying on data analysis capacity, sound judgement, logical thinking, ability to trust one's own intuition as a distillation of previous experience and last, but not least, a strength of character enabling one to take risks and responsibility.

The management consulting firm Bain, performing a survey of more than 750 companies, found a clear correlation of 95% between the corporation`s financial results and their effectiveness in terms of decision-making. Another insight of the survey showed business organizations that are especially good at making and executing strategic decisions report returns nearly 6% higher than their competitors.

Research by consulting firm McKinsey, with more than thousand managers from global companies, gave clear indications of increasing levels of frustration from broken decision-making processes, with the slow pace of decision-making and with the inconsistent quality of the results from the decision-making. Less than half of the survey participants reported that decisions are timely, and more than 60% say that at least half the time spent making them is ineffective.

How can business leaders improve their decision-making capacity and performance?

Decision-making is not a eureka moment of revelation. It is a process, and assuming a structured step-by-step approach could help gain control and ensuring its effectiveness and efficiency:

According to Schlesinger it is critical to ensure the pieces are in place for implementation. An effective team decision-making process encompasses:

By following a structured, multi-step process, you can make well informed, effective decisions and achieve the desired outcome. But even the not so perfect decision is often far better than no decision at all. 

As  Gordon Graham wisely pointed out, “Decision is a sharp knife that cuts clean and straight; indecision, a dull one that hacks and tears and leaves ragged edges behind it.

In the realm of leadership, technical skills and strategic thinking often take center stage. However, there's a crucial yet often overlooked aspect that separates good leaders from great ones: Emotional Intelligence (EQ). In this article, we explore why EQ is indispensable for effective leadership and how it can transform workplace dynamics.

At its core, EQ encompasses the ability to recognize, understand, and manage both our own emotions and those of others. In a professional setting, this translates into improved communication, stronger relationships, and better decision-making.

Here's why EQ matters:

In conclusion, Emotional Intelligence is not just a nice-to-have skill for leaders—it's a must-have. It underpins effective communication, builds trust and rapport, facilitates conflict resolution, cultivates resilience, and empowers others to thrive. As we navigate the complexities of the modern workplace, let's remember that true leadership begins with understanding ourselves and others on a deeper emotional level.

At Friisberg & Partners, we emphasize EQ while evaluating the leadership qualities of our candidates. We never forget to look beyond the CV, and consider the power of Emotional Intelligence. It could be the difference between a candidate who merely manages a team and a candidate who inspires greatness.

Thirty-three years ago I spent two years in the middle of my studies sailing in the Whitbread Round the World race on s/y UBF. It was a great experience. Then came work, family and all other priorities and duties. My friends often asked, if I would do the circumnavigating or an ocean racing leg again, should the opportunity arise? Hell yeah! I always answered but continued that no one would take a 58 year-old, grey haired and bearded office guy on-board... so not a chance.

But then luck kicked in the form of The Ocean Globe Race, a fully crewed retro race in the spirit of the 1973 Whitbread Round the World Race. There it was, my chance to relive my great adventure.

Sailing the Leg 3, from Auckland of New Zealand via Cape Horn to Punta Del Este of Uruguay, on a Nautor Swan 651, s/y Spirit of Helsinki was beyond great - as well as the team. 

One special element of this race is that no communication to and/or from the boat was allowed except some tweets to the organizers or in case of an emergency. So we were really 100 % offline for five weeks: no emails, no social media, no WhatsApp, no sms, no phone calls - totally disconnected from work and from families. 

During those five weeks, our universe was the boat, the ocean, the sky and the 14 team members - and being offline is inspirational.

It is possible.

You can actually live without emails, calls, news and social media for five weeks, no problem! I suppose we aren’t irreplaceable after all. My only concern was my family: was everything OK with them. That bothered me quite a lot. It was such a relief to get the phone from the sealed bag in in Punta del Este, to call home straight away and to hear that everyone was OK!

Should you have a job or a business, thorough preparation is required.

Planning of projects, managing the hand-overs to colleagues (a big thank you to my fellow colleagues at Friisberg!) and making sure that all administration eg. billing, taxes etc. are all well-planned beforehand. Nonetheless I was feeling a bit shaky when I opened my email after the five weeks offline, but fortunately there were no crisis, no big issues waiting there. My projects had gone well during and despite my absence and I had few calls from new clients waiting for my return.

Onboard we had our daily jobs and roles.

We hardly ever talked about our land based professional lives during the five weeks. The talk was around sailing, watch systems (work-schedule on board), competition, sail-trim, strategy, maneuvers, food, weather or sleep - not work. It was a time for something else for everyone. On the boat we were helmsmen, sail-trimmers, not CEOs or Executive Search Consultants. Thirty year-old Hilla, the only female on board was our most accurate and by far the fastest in celestial navigation with the traditional sextant. And our excellent second mate, 22 years old Aaro, told the four CEO's aboard what to do in the sail change.  And that worked well. Should we change our roles more often in the office work as well?

Now that I’m back online I challenge you to try being offline. Try it for a week or two at first - like on your next holiday.

The first step is to decide, then plan, and finally just to do it.

When we inspire others to understand and value women's inclusion, we forge a better world.

In the ongoing pursuit of gender equality, inclusion stands as a cornerstone principle, essential for breaking down barriers, challenging stereotypes, and creating environments where all women are valued and respected.

World-renowned feminist, journalist and activist, Gloria Steinem, reportedly once explained:

"The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights."

While progress has been made in advancing women's rights and opportunities, true gender equality remains elusive in many parts of the world. Inclusion is vital to drive meaningful change to a more equitable future.

Inclusion is not merely about representation; it's about creating spaces and systems where all women, regardless of their background, identity, or circumstances, feel valued, heard, and empowered. This means recognizing and addressing the intersecting forms of discrimination and marginalization that women from diverse backgrounds face, whether based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Breaking down barriers is a central tenet of inclusive gender equality:

Women encounter various obstacles on their path to equality, including structural barriers such as discriminatory laws and policies, limited access to education and healthcare, and unequal opportunities in the workforce. Inclusive action involves identifying and dismantling these barriers to ensure that all women have equal access to resources, opportunities, and decision-making processes.

Challenging stereotypes is another vital aspect in the quest for gender equality:

Stereotypes based on gender, race, ethnicity, or other factors often limit women's potential and perpetuate harmful biases and discrimination. By challenging these stereotypes and promoting diverse representations of women in media, education, and leadership, we can create a more inclusive narrative that celebrates the richness and complexity of women's experiences and identities.

Creating environments where all women are valued and respected requires a cultural shift that prioritizes empathy, respect, and solidarity:

This entails fostering inclusive attitudes and behaviors at all levels of society, from families and communities to workplaces and policy-making institutions. It involves promoting ally ship among individuals and organizations, amplifying marginalized voices, and actively challenging discrimination and exclusion wherever it occurs.

To achieve inclusive gender equality, action is needed on multiple fronts:

Inclusion is not just a buzzword; it's a fundamental principle that underpins the pursuit of gender equality. By breaking down barriers, challenging stereotypes, and creating inclusive environments where all women are valued and respected, we can build a more just and equitable society for everyone.

It's time to take action and make inclusion a reality in our quest for gender equality:

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