Why It`s Lonely at the Top

I recently met with Frank, a CEO in the financial industry, to discuss my executive coaching services. He was considering bringing me on board and wanted to make sure that my coaching style matched his belief system. Knowing that I was meeting with a brilliant, successful businessman, I expected the interview to be rigorous, but his intensity caught me off guard.

I started our meeting by asking Frank a few questions about his background and leadership style. Disregarding my attempt to begin building a relationship, Frank ignored my questions and immediately redirected the conversation to what I could do for his company.

His concentrated stare was off-putting, and I quickly understood why the executive who arranged our meeting seemed afraid of him. Without hesitation, I jumped right into my methodology and style. I felt like I was in a bull pin with someone who might charge at any moment. His intensity was exhausting!

After 10 minutes that felt like hours, I sat back in my chair, maintained eye contact, and asked, “Do you get how intense you are?”

Frank explained that his company conducted a 360-assessment of him several years ago, from which he learned that his team was terrified of him. At that time, he made some adjustments, which he believed had helped.

Over the next few days, Frank and I conversed several times over the phone and via e-mail. He shared a bit about his life. Mostly, I learned just how lonely he is. And it’s not hard to see why. I know very few people who can handle spending time with someone that intense.

This is a lesson I learned about myself many years ago. I have always been enthusiastic and passionate, and I assumed that people appreciated that energy at all times. But after a networking function, one of my mentors asked me, “If you were hanging a picture on the wall, would you use a hammer or a sledge hammer?”

“A regular hammer, of course,” I said.

“Think of your passion as tool in your tool belt,” she continued. “There are times when its use is critical, and there are times when using it will blow people over.”

In essence, she taught me how to control my emotions, which isn’t always easy. But understanding where my energy comes from helps me to use it effectively – without scaring people.

I shared this story with Frank and asked him, “What drives you?” While he didn’t have a clear answer, the question gave him pause. When he figures that out, he can begin to harness the intensity that makes him successful – without intimidating his team.

As a leader, knowing what drives you allows you to relate to others and to engage them with your passion. When the answer is unclear, inauthentic or selfish, chances are good that you’ll be left feeling alone. A meaningful connection to others requires a common interest, not a stare-down.

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