How often have you heard those in leadership positions utter the mantra, ‘It’s lonely at the top’? They usually serve it up in a sort of self-congratulatory and somewhat condescending manner that expects no one but themselves to really understand. It is almost as if the mantra is the coded password to an exclusive club that only the members themselves fully comprehend.

hat ‘the top’ should always be a lonely place is an illusion. As a parent, I think I can prove it.

Parties are no problem when the kids are knee-high. In fact I think that often the extravagant early parties are more about the parents than the kids. A kind of ‘if Samantha next door had a jumping castle, let’s go with helicopter rides’ mentality. Talk about pressure! Anyway the point is that throwing parties at this stage of the journey is really to sweat the small stuff.

It is when kids grow up that parties become a challenge. As parents you seldom get to witness them because any self-respecting teenager will see to it that the main event takes place at a time and place where you are not. However, there is good reason to ensure that you occasionally thwart such plans and report for duty when these events take place.

The main purpose in being present at your kid’s party is to remind yourself that there are others like your own. For some parents it might even help to see that it is entirely possible that there are some even worse than your own. To discover that you are not alone as you navigate the times of feeling that your offspring are the result of some mutant genetic bungling, is a very reassuring discovery for most parents. It serves instantly to dispel the myth that the issues you are facing as the parent of a teenager are unique. In fact, experience has taught me to be suspicious of any household with teenagers who appear calm, orderly and ‘normal’. Either they have done masterful jobs of deception and disguise or have somehow put a tourniquet around the inevitable.

Turbulence, challenge and discomfort are part of the parent-teenage terrain, and don’t let anyone tell you they are not. However it is in this environment that new and better ways can be forged, where growth takes place and, above all, you discover that your issues and challenges are not unique. Such a discovery opens the way to learning from others and sharing some of the joys and frustrations that mark the journey of parenthood.

When you feel that you are alone it is easy to act accordingly. Tragically, many leaders do this repeatedly, creating a kind of self-imposed exile. If only they would throw a party they would discover others who share the same responsibilities and tasks. They would hear the stories of other leaders who have met with both success and failure, and learnt from both. They would discover that leadership need not be lonely. It is what you make of it that matters.

I remember talking to the CEO of a very successful medium-size business. It had been in the family for several generations and had carved out a unique niche for itself in the business world. He said he had an ‘open door’ policy, which meant that anyone could come into his office at any time to discuss whatever was on their mind. There were no gaps, no holes . . . everybody was content. Or so he thought. As I drilled down to deeper levels within the company, the picture that emerged was remarkably different from that held by the CEO. People weren’t talking (well, at least not to him) and the open door was a deserted pathway. Often leaders assume that if no one is chatting to them then there are no issues to deal with – rather like those homes inhabited by adolescents where everything ‘appears normal’. Many leaders assume that the pathway to their desk is an inviting one, but often it is not, something that seems to remain hidden in their blind spot. To become effective leaders we must move away from the ‘imaginary’ organisation we design and learn to work in the real organisation instead.

When last did one of your staff talk to you – really talk to you?

Leaders need to build appropriate networks for themselves, webs of relationships. These need to exist both in and out of the work environment. They become safe places to off-load, share, be vulnerable, ask questions, listen, be accountable, and process who they are and how they lead. Without such networks and relational webs leaders place themselves at even greater risk in an already ‘high risk’ zone.

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