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Typically I write about things you can do as a business leader to accelerate the support you provide to your team members to give greater impact. But I feel that this week – following Loneliness Awareness Week specifically focussed on tackling loneliness – that this one (she says pointing somewhere in the middle distance towards you, reader)? This one’s just for you…

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes ‘loneliness’ as “the pain we feel when our social connections do not meet our needs”.  So although it doesn’t automatically follow that we would associate loneliness in an employment context, given that we spend so much of our lives ‘working’ in some form or other and that work/life is no longer balanced but blended, it’s only natural that we make many of our social connections when we’re ‘9-5’.

Mental Health UK found that 1 in 5 workers feel lonely at any one time, with certain risk groups (including younger workers) feeling the impact of it at an even greater rate.

But what about business owners? Some may feel that with (the perception of) more choice, autonomy and the ability to connect with everyone in their business, that surely this group would fare better? Not so according to recent research undertaken by the super lovely & brilliant Penny Power: when it comes to business owners, a whopping 66% of them feel it too.  Empty. Isolated, Solitary. Whatever your name for these feelings are, running a business it seems, can sometimes be the loneliest place to be within it.

And I’ve felt it too. Not all the time, for sure, and there is much to be said about the energising and meaningful interactions that one gets to have as their business evolves. But there have been distinct moments when I’d have loved to have been able to sit down and open up about what I was really thinking about. To chew through a really tricky decision. Or to voice my doubts about the path I was following. Essentially, to have the kind of connection and conversation which really met ‘my’ needs and not someone else’s.

For me – perhaps perversely – just knowing that there are so many others out there feeling a similar way gives me some comfort that what I may be experiencing from time to time, has some sense of ‘the typical’ about it. And I also know that the loneliness that I have felt has been pretty fleeting and not the more deep seated type which can play havoc with your mental health longer term.

Because if you are starting to feel it creep into the ‘norm’ it can cause you to feel alienated to the point of doubting yourself, losing confidence and struggling with the things you would normally do on auto-pilot.

Even those who would be viewed as extroverts can feel it (perhaps more so?) and it’s not always that you are afraid to open up or be vulnerable to your team. You can exist as a person who is helping to create an open and supportive environment for your team members  whilst simultaneously struggling to open up as ‘the boss’.  There could be a genuine feeling of wanting to avoid ‘burdening others’ or the fact that you are trying to make a tricky decision that will impact the very people who are around you at work most and who you are trying to protect.

Whatever the reason is that you may be feeling this way however, there are various ways that you can help yourself work through these periods and (unsurprisingly) many of the tips to help beat loneliness when you’re the leader don’t vary tremendously from when you have a different role in the business. However  the one thing I would just say that there are a few nuances to avoid if you want to avoid any David Brent moments….

Firstly, perhaps do a bit of analysis on yourself. Start by going back to the definition of loneliness by WHO (see above) and really think about what your ‘needs’ are.  Is it someone to listen to you without judgement? To bat ideas off? To help you solve problems? Or is it that you spot a group of your team members merrily laughing over their lunch and miss the feeling this gives? I find that there are different people that can support these different needs and spending time thinking about what I’m actually missing helps me.

This could lead you to start engaging with a mentor, a coach, an expert in a field you feel less comfortable in and that you spend most of your time operating in. Or simply it can remind yourself of who you do know that you can reach out to that you may have forgotten.

Internally, you could also try your hand at a more ‘democratic’ style of leadership that invites others to help make your decisions. After all, if they’re not all resting on your shoulders, then not only will it feel like some of the weight of the world has been lifted off them, but you should get more ideas to boot. Many business owners I find delegation a challenge, so test yourself to see if you’re creating a rod for your own back in this regard.

And finally, look beyond your own business and get to know others in similar spaces. Don’t know where to start? Ask the people you trust where they ‘hang out’ and start looking out for events that you like the ‘style’ of. I’m not a massive fan of ‘networking’ in its 1990’s form  (and have yet to find anyone who is tbh…) as the term feels a bit ‘conference room at the Ibis’ for me, but I do like talking to interesting people and the sparks that come from great conversations and so sometimes it is worth putting in the effort to seek them out. Online or offline, regular or infrequent, there will be a group out there where you can feel at home.

For other ways to address loneliness (for both you and your team), I would urge you to take a look at the resources offered by Mental Health UK here . They’re far reaching and have helped me and many others understand what helps what hinders when the feelings come.

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