Your Boardroom and Other Lonely Places

600600p82931EDNmain546Clare_Chaney_imageYou’re sat in the boardroom, surrounded by familiar faces. Your board members are your colleagues, and some are even your friends. You work alongside them day in, day out. You know their talents, their quirks, and their bugbears. Yet why, sat here amongst these people, do you feel quite so lonely?

The boardroom can be an isolating place at the best of times. With big personalities around the table, it’s often hard to maintain order while important issues are thrashed out. Key messages are left unsaid, and sometimes only a select few have their opinion heard. As you fight against this feeling, other areas of your life become affected too – resulting in a pervading sense of loneliness that is difficult to shake.

The loneliness of the boardroom
The story is a familiar one. The date for the board meeting comes around. The agenda is set, and you have plenty ready to contribute. Armed with facts and figures, you have important ideas to raise and welcome an open, considered debate on the matters at hand. But step inside that boardroom, and after ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, hopeful intentions begin to slip away.

In the boardroom, loneliness can be an overwhelming feeling. You may be fighting a one-man battle. No-one is listening, and no-one is offering the advice and support you need. But you are not alone. According to the RHR International CEO Snapshot Survey, 50% of CEOs experience a feeling of loneliness: a startling statistic indeed. CEO’s and business leaders almost always appear to be strong and assured. Yet all too often they are internalising problems that result in isolation.

…and other lonely places
If you feel this way, it’s likely not restricted to the boardroom. You may feel lonely at home too: the stress of work life restricting your ability to get involved in family matters. You may be more withdrawn and up-tight, with less time to simply laugh with your other half or your children. Socially, your friendships may be taking a beating too. You’re working overtime, and have cancelled on your closest friends one too many times. But this should not be the price of success.

Safeguarding against loneliness
According to leadership coach Kristi Hedges, loneliness has ramifications on the entire business. Writing in an article for Forbes, she says it can cause ‘poor decision-making, negativity, fatigue and frustration’. In short, it’s worth making an effort to safeguard against this feeling – for your own good and for the sake of your business.

Thankfully there are plenty of ways to protect yourself from loneliness as a CEO. You may find yourself a mentor: a person who will listen and advise even when your boardroom fails to help. You could join a peer support group: a collection of professionals who can offer mutual support and understanding. Or perhaps you establish an informal advisory group; meeting in a neutral, relaxed environment to discuss mutual challenges. Whichever option you prefer, the only way to safeguard against loneliness is to do something about it.


The Unforgiving Minute

600600p82931EDNmainEd_Reid_imageThere you are, 13 or 14, having a game of cricket with your mates or fixing your bike – or plucking up the courage to talk to the girl next door.

“Edward,” your mum says, “Time to come in and write your thank you letters.”

You sigh. Was there ever a bigger waste of time? After all, your auntie will cough up again next year. And at Christmas. She has to: it’s in the rules.

What’s emphatically not in the rules is taking time out of your day to wish someone happy birthday nearly thirty years later. But several of you did – so thank you. I had a lovely day on Wednesday and I really appreciate all the messages – even the less complimentary ones, pointing out that the years may have taken their toll…

I was going to write about testimonials this week but somehow the words wouldn’t come. I managed the electronic equivalent of a great many screwed up pieces of A4 – so let’s consider wasting time instead.

Shortly after I started my first job the sales manager took me to one side. “You want to be successful, Ed?” he said.

“Yes. Absolutely. Definitely. Yes. Obviously,” I said, eloquence not being my strong suit at that point in my life.

“It’s simple,” he said. “Do a full day’s work every day – including Friday. And that’ll put you ahead of 98% of the people out there.”

At the time I didn’t pay too much attention. I may even have been a little dismissive. ‘Do a full day’s work every day?’ That was obvious. How did you become a manager if all you could do was trot out the obvious?

Over the years I’ve realised that ‘do a full day’s work’ is probably the best business advice anyone ever receives. It might even be the best advice for life in general – as Rudyard Kipling pointed out:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it…

…Which was fine when If was written in 1895. It was even fine when my sales manager gave me the advice a hundred years later. But it’s not fine now – because since then the internet has come along and the ‘unforgiving minute’ has very definitely become the distracting minute.

Had the Dark Lord spent a large slice of eternity on a project to disrupt your work he could hardly have come up with a better plan than the internet. It will be there all the time in the background, my Lord. With everything on it that they’re interested in. Instantly. At the click of a button. ‘Have a look at this recipe. Why not check the cricket score as well? Here’s your favourite song: it’ll only waste three minutes…’

I’m as guilty as anyone – my particular bête noire is online banking (how many times, Ed? You do not need to check the cash flow every day). Then there are everyone’s updates on LinkedIn, the cricket scores, football, the BBC Sport site…

Staying focused shouldn’t be a problem. But, increasingly, it is. So I’m always interested in articles that look at time management, productivity and getting things done – and last week I came across this one, promising that we can all get the same amount done in half the time.

It’s a subject that I haven’t written about for a long time, and maybe I should return to it – especially as “finding the time to get it all done and still see my family” is such a recurring theme round the TAB boardroom table.

So let me finish this week with two very simple questions. What’s the website that wastes the most time for you? (Please remember this is a family blog – and yes, of course there’s a prize for anyone who replies TAB York.) And what’s the technique/trick/habit/act of will power that most helps you stay focused during the working day?

I’ll look at one very simple technique next week, and then I’ll pull all the collective wisdom together in the following post. In the meantime, enjoy the weekend and please rest assured that sitting back with a glass of wine very definitely does count as ‘sixty seconds’ worth of distance run…’