It can be lonely at the top

The more responsibility you have in whatever field, the fewer people you can share with.

If you are leading a business, the people in that business look to you for advice and guidance. You are supposed to have the answers – because if you haven’t got them, who has?

In the workplace, you are bound up with all the emotion that comes with leading a team.

You’ll be feeling responsible for the team, and for the business.

That can make your position a lonely place. You can’t talk about your problems to your colleagues, your customers, your suppliers or your service providers – all the people you come into contact with on a daily basis. Some business leaders are lucky enough to have an understanding partner, who will at least listen!

There are two strategies to deploy to help you avoid the worst effects of this trap.

Firstly, surround yourself with trusted advisors. These are people you must be able to trust and discuss issues with, and who can bring dispassionate objectivity to bear on your problems. They could be independent business advisors (I know one of them!) or perhaps other business leaders who operate in a different sector. There are many peer groups to facilitate such support.

Secondly, be more open with your colleagues at work. There’s nothing wrong with being human, and indeed if you are more open you will build stronger relationships with the people around you. The stronger those relationships, the greater the trust and honesty will be and the easier you will find things.

There will always be those areas where you cannot discuss the issues, but they are probably far fewer than you think they are. Just make sure you are not spreading loads of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt)

Business Leaders are people too!

Pick the right moment

A great challenge in business is to do things at the right time whereas doing the right thing at the wrong time can easily lead to failure.

This is clearly apparent in sales, where asking for the business at the wrong moment can damage the emergent relationship. You are seen as pushy and / or desperate!

It is less obvious but no less true in other areas. Perhaps there is a project that will add to the short-term workload of a department. Launching the project in the department’s busy period may not be the best idea! The blowback from such a decision might include the conclusion that you don’t know what is going on and are out of touch – or worse, that you knew and didn’t care.

Timing plays a big part in negotiation when you are busying as well as selling. If you can pick the right moment to ask for the extras, you will find the vendor more receptive. The chances are that if you wait until the day before you are due to take delivery you will get short shrift.

The best time to buy a new car is when the dealer hasn’t quite reached their target and is running out of time – at the end of the month, quarter or year.

The best time to ask for a testimonial is when the buyer is ecstatic with you and your service. Capture it on video, in the heat of the moment, for maximum effectiveness.

So the things that are on your urgent to-do list may have to wait for the appropriate moment, but don’t let that become an opportunity for procrastination.

There are two relevant sayings

“one who hesitates is lost”

adapted from Joseph Addison’s 1712 play Cato


“fools rush in where angels fear to tread”

Alexander Pope “An Essay on Criticism”

Somewhere between the two is the sweet spot. Think about your timing and be patient!

Breaking down the silo walls

Many businesses are structured into departments which have objectives and targets. There’s a common failure when cross-departmental links are not as strong as they could be, and instead departmental managers and their teams focus on their individual objectives and neglect the greater good of the organisation as a whole.

There’s an extreme example in my own career history. Many years ago my appointment as Managing Director of a division was announced and shortly after the announcement a colleague who was the MD of a different division rang me. Steve congratulated me, and then said “let battle commence” I was somewhat shocked – after all, we both worked for the same parent company. I’d have expected the friendly rivalry to see who could get the best scorecard for the year, but not an all-out battle!

Steve didn’t stay in his role very long, but when you looked at the measurement used to assess his (and my) performance, there was nothing to encourage mutual cooperation.

This approach is often known as operating in silos. Everything is contained within the silo, nothing in the outside world impacts on the silo.

What you actually need is cross-departmental functionality, and one methodology to break down any barriers is to have teams comprised of members from different departments with a cross-business remit. The team is responsible for something that affects everyone – perhaps organising a social event, or looking after the canteen, or making some minor improvements to the working environment. They’ll need a budget, and be empowered to get on and make changes.

You can help prevent the barriers coming into existence if you are careful with departmental objectives but also by reminding managers that they have internal customers, and if you don’t meet the needs of the internal customer the business won’t meet the needs of its external customers.

Finally, if you have an area of friction between two departments it can help if there is a “bridge” position between the two – someone employed to carry out duties that straddle both. That position has reporting lines to the two departmental managers in what is known as a matrix structure.