I recently received John Maxwell’s “A Minute With Maxwell” titled “Lonely.” He spoke about his new book for a while and then talked about it being lonely at the top. He states that if you are lonely at the top, you are not a leader, you are a hiker. Leaders always have people around them. I agree with him so I decided to explore the lonely at the top thing further.
Quite often you hear that leaders are like eagles. They don’t flock and you find them one at a time. The comparison to an eagle does not mean that leaders are rare and lonely, it means that leaders have a clear and great vision and courage to act on that vision. Eagles have powerful vision and pinpoint accuracy, to the detriment of the targeted mouse or fish, of course.
The comparison also means that leaders do not surround themselves with those who lack vision and positive attitude. They want to lead those who are willing to support, commit and contribute to the mission. Average people want to take the easy route. They do not want to be led, they want to be pushed and prodded so they can resist.
Great leaders are surrounded by people who admire and respect them. These people feel empowered and motivated. They look for the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with success. The leader does not leave these people behind. Leaders empower others.
So what is this about loneliness at the top? If you are lonely at the top, research indicates that it is due to your feeling of power. You are lonely at the top because you selfishly do not share the power. You question the intentions of others whenever they attempt to establish relationships with you. You distrust their motives and hesitate to repay favors. Trust is crucial to good relationships.
Trust is established by the back and forth exchange of small vulnerabilities between and among individuals. One provides a favor to the other. The other reciprocates the favor. Each discloses a small embarrassment to the other. Over time, trust is established and with it a great relationship. When we trust, we believe that a person will act in our own best interest even when we are not there to monitor the action. Violate a trust and there goes the relationship.
So power reduces trust. Power changes our beliefs about the generosity of others. Interestingly, this distrust is apparent towards those perceived to be less powerful. Why are they doing this favor for us? What do they have to gain? According to research, when the favor is done by a peer we don’t have the same perception and distrust.
Under the influence of power, we reciprocate those favors we think were done for our benefit not for the ulterior motives of the individual providing the favor. If there appears to be no benefit to the favor-giver, then we are comfortable giving back. However, if the favor-giver can benefit from providing the favor, we are reluctant to reciprocate.
When we can attribute selfishness to the kindness of others, our power will tend to distrust the actions and therefore impede the relationship. Without good relationships, we will exist in a world of distrust. We will take the kindness yet not reciprocate. Others will distance themselves and we will be lonely at the top, powerful, yet lonely at the top.
Now all this does not mean that the powerful are walking around looking for someone to distrust. Research indicates that at the moment when someone attempts to establish closeness through generous acts and unsolicited favors that power gets in the way.
I have written about how “we judge others as we judge ourselves” before. Essentially we attribute our own feelings and motivations onto others. It is very difficult for us to look at other people with unbiased eyes, and the bias is determined by how we perceive ourselves. If you achieved your power motivated by selfishness and through questionable actions, you will definitely be distrustful of the intentions of others.
The powerful are generally unaware of the tendencies to distrust others and thus contribute greatly to the lack of good relationships. To know this, is to take a step toward rectifying the situation. This, of course, assumes that you wish to rectify the situation. If you believe that all is fine, then no evidence to the contrary will ever change your mind.
You believe that in the end everyone is in it mostly for themselves. You are already powerful, relationships are overrated, business is business and love is bull poop. It is not lonely at the top; your dog adores you and that is all you need.
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