I was having a conversation recently with a close friend of mine who’s a psychologist, and he was telling me how a huge number of his patients, nearly 80% of his patients come to see him because they need someone to listen to them. I said, ‘What do you mean by that?’ and he said, ‘They just need to connect. They want to come, and spend an hour with someone where they can just offload whatever they’re thinking about, and have the freedom to say it.’
It’s about having people feel less lonely, and that really struck a chord for me. I thought, ‘loneliness is certainly something that is occurring a lot more in society.’ It goes against the accepted belief, and if you think about how we have thousands of friends on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, how technology is connecting us, yet in spite of all that, we still have a growing epidemic of loneliness. Three days after that conversation, I read in the news that in the United Kingdom they had created the position of Minister for Loneliness. I thought, ‘Wow.’ The reason they had done that was, that research had demonstrated that in the previous six months there was something like 2 million people in the UK who had had no social contact with another human being for at least a month. A month, no social contact. I thought that was really sad.
It got me thinking about loneliness, and I thought loneliness really impacts mental health, physical health, and it’s really about being alone, isn’t it? You know that sense of suddenly I am alone, I have no one else to reach out to, that I’m in my own world, and even though we may be with people, it’s still possible to be with people and still be lonely. What is the relevance of this for you as a leader? I find that in my work as a coach with senior leaders that what they appreciate in our conversations is the fact that they have a place to unload. I don’t work for them, I don’t work in the organisation, so they can just offload what they need to say to me.
Being a senior leader in an organisation is actually lonely, because there’s only so much you can share with people in your team. You still need to maintain a certain amount of privacy so you can’t just let everybody know everything, and if that is the case, how then do you deal with that yourself? What are the steps that you have to deal with that level of loneliness? Who are the people that you use as a sounding board? Who are the people you can throw ideas around with? Who are the people where you can do a reality check, in terms of your perception of the world?
Here’s my reflection point for you, what are you doing to ensure that you are interacting with people and managing the level of loneliness in your role? Secondly, think of your teams. Are there enough interactions happening in your team so that they are managing that themselves? Thirdly, what can you do as a leader to build a greater sense of social cohesiveness, and a greater sense of connectedness within your teams and organisations?