Lonely at the Top?

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Have you ever climbed the success ladder only to find out how lonely it is at the top of it? If you have, please share what you see from your new heights. I don’t have the first-hand experience of being at the proverbial top to back up my words, but I have a hard time understanding the exact meaning of this expression.

It never made sense to me, because I believe that those who make it to the very top are high profile leaders. Leaders, by the very definition of the word, have plenty of followers. In fact, followers are the ones who make an inspiring individual into a leader in the first place, by choosing to follow his or her vision. United by a common purpose, together they move in the right direction towards a desired future state. So, why does it have to become lonely, once they reach the destination?

As I am challenging the whole “loneliness at the top” concept, I can attest however that the more successful you are at what you do the more criticism you get. There are different kinds of criticism you face:

  • People giving you tough love:

They believe you are advanced enough in your field and you don’t need to be given the sugar-coated version of the truth anymore. If at an earlier stages of mastering your craft you mainly received the praise it must have been for the effort. Now that you are at an advanced skill level of whatever it is you are doing you have graduated from being recognized for your efforts. What’s expected of you now is the results. With this type of critics I recommend listening to their advice and valuing the time and energy they put into providing you the information that will help you grow.

What to watch for: watch for the boundaries not to be overstepped. I have developed an eye for the fine line between the two kinds of behavior. On one hand someone might be playing a devil’s advocate in their honest attempt to help you get the mental toughness and to prepare for all kinds of worst-case scenarios questions. On the other hand, someone else, who does not have your best interests in mind, might be actually sabotaging your work under the pretence of helping.

  • People who “know it all”:                                                                                                                                               Some people know exactly what not to do. They know how not to write a blog, how not to parent a child, how not to deliver a speech. A wealth of knowledge indeed, but mainly, all kinds of hypothetical lessons to share without any real life experience to back up those statements. These are usually the people from the bleachers, who most likely have never stepped on the court and gotten their own hands dirty. The criticism coming from this category of people would be the first to dismiss.   
  • Neither haters, nor biggest fans:

These people can still contribute to your success even though it doesn’t always seem that way. They may criticize your work whether they belong to your line of work or come from an unrelated field. It’s still worth listening to what they have to offer as you may hear something beneficial to your progress. With feedback being more readily available in the web based world, I often see even hardworking, talented business owners who love hearing praise but can’t take criticism. Some take it to the social media to rant to their fans about every “ungrateful” review they received. In reality, we should accept the fact that not everyone will think the way we do and will agree with our actions. So, develop a thick skin and learn to find in any criticism the nugget of truth that will help you grow further.

Continue doing what you are doing, don’t allow anyone’s negativity stick to you, but be also cautious if all you hear is positive feedback. It is good for continual growth to receive a lot of criticism. The absence of any can mean one of the two things: either people around you don’t feel free to offer their honest opinion or your activities aren’t impactful enough to stir any real debates.

If any of the above scenarios sound like your case reach deeper to make a bigger difference or create safe space for people to share freely. With your intentions based on caring for people and your actions designed to provide value you might still get the criticism as you climb higher and higher towards your success, but it should never get lonely  when you find yourself at the top.

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  1. As a business leader, your goal is to guide change through service, to influence the direction of your organization, and to foster the growth of the people within the organization. I do feel however, that individuals at the top can have a difficult time truly connecting with members of their team. Building personal connections and/or friendships with people who report directly to you is fine when things are going well but can make for a very difficult scenario when addressing poor performance or worse, termination. Many business leaders will choose to maintain a more formal or professional relationship with the people they lead which, in turn, can make for a somewhat lonely work experience for those privileged few at the top.

    1. Hi Jason thank you for taking the time to provide such a thoughtful explanation. I guess what you are saying does speak for how this concept may have originated. Maybe there is still a way to be an involved leader without necessarily making all relationships with the people on your team personal?

  2. Natella,loved reading this blog. We as human beings strive to be leaders or at least mentors that can influence and inspire people. Hopefully we are blessed to have someone in our lives that can inspire those values to help us succeed and guide us.😙