Gini Dietrich

It’s Lonely At the Top

By: Gini Dietrich | March 6, 2012 | 

A few weeks ago, the Harvard Business Review ran an article titled, “It’s Time to Acknowledge CEO Loneliness.”

It’s an interesting article that discusses extravagant compensation packages, fancy jets and hotels, mansions for homes, and car services. All while feeling very lonely because, as a leader of an organization, you seemingly have no one on your side.

I recommend you read it.

But the most interesting part of the article is in the comments.

You see, people don’t feel sorry for CEOs. The perception is they have all this money so why should it matter they’re lonely?

In fact, one commenter said, “My heart bleeds for the lonely, misunderstood CEO.  I’m sure someone making three hundred times my salary is in need of some tender loving care and understanding.  So let me tell these guys where to find sympathy:  In Webster’s, somewhere between s*** and syphilis.”

But I’m here to tell you, not all CEOs are wealthy, fly in private jets, sip champagne at 30,000 feet, stay in five star hotels, live in mansions, and only care about what’s in it for them.

There is a large group of CEOs who built companies from nothing. Who bootstrapped their business growth. Who didn’t get paid a dime (no stock options, no salaries, no draws, no bonuses, no retirement savings, nothing) in down years. Who have, more than once, laid in bed awake at night, wondering how they were going to make payroll. Who had to come to a decision that the time may very well be here to let everyone go and shutter the doors. Who also then picked up the pieces and put it all back together because quitting wasn’t an option.

Those people are lonely. I know because I am one.

They don’t say it’s lonely at the top for no reason. It is lonely at the top. Perhaps for the very reason the one commenter made – the perception is we’ve all made it.

There are plenty of things we can do to change that perception, at least internally with our own teams. Things such as rewarding equally, participating in meetings, showing our faces, and coaching and mentoring. But there isn’t anything we can do if someone thinks we make three hundred times their salary…even if we don’t.

There are four things we can do make it less lonely, provide some support, and hold us accountable, not just for business growth, but for taking care of our teams.

  1. Get a coach. Every professional athlete has a coach. Not all, but a good percentage of today’s CEOs are self-made. That means we didn’t “grow up” climbing the corporate ladder and gaining CEO skills along the way. There is no shame in having someone hold you accountable to the work you say you’re going to do.
  2. Join a peer advisory group. I belong to Vistage, but there are other organizations, such as Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Young Presidents’ Organization, and Women Business Owners. Peer advisory groups give you the opportunity to work through issues and challenges with people who have either done it or are doing it.
  3. Walk around. It’s simple and it doesn’t cost you anything, but many leaders never leave their offices. Walk the manufacturing floor. Talk to the interns in the cubicles. Hang out at the front desk. Run the cash register. Get out once a day and talk to your team. This will lessen the perception that it’s you against them. And, you never know, you may end up becoming less lonely as you share your days with your team.
  4. Form a board of advisors. While you may not be a public company that has to report to a board and shareholders, creating an advisory board of people whose expertise make up areas where you are weak helps you stave off the loneliness. Typically these people gain some sort of equity in your business and meet with you once a quarter. You treat them just as you would a corporate board and rely on their expertise to help you through issues and challenges.

There certainly isn’t much we can do for those who think we’ve made it, but we can help ourselves in battling that feeling we’re all alone.

What additional ideas do you have for tempering the loneliness?

Special thanks to Cartoon Stock for the very funny image. Also, a portion of this first appeared in my Friday column over at Crain’s Chicago Business.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

  • Good ideas, Gini. While I’m not a member of an official peer group, I’ve developed great relationships with peers in Nashville. We try to get together for breakfast once a month and it’s really refreshing to trade ideas and commiserate.
    It also helps to be married to an entrepreneur. We talk about this stuff ALL THE TIME. While that can also make things extra crazy, I do find it’s nice that we are both tackling similar issues. However, I guess recommending that people go out and find an entrepreneur to marry isn’t quite the best advice. 😉

    • ginidietrich

       @lauraclick I’m also married to an entrepreneur, but he has different issues than I do (no employees, for instance, just partners). But sometimes it’s a good idea to get away from the people who love you most. I like the breakfast idea with your peers. You and I would totally do that if we were closer!

      •  @ginidietrich My husband and I started our businesses (fulltime anyway) within 6 months of each other, so we’re in the same spot. Neither of us have employees now, but that’s bound to change before long.
        And yes, it’s a darn shame we live 8 hours apart! But, that’s what Skype is for. Maybe we’ll have to have virtual coffee one day. 🙂

  • Nothing to say except brilliant post, Gini. Unless you’ve been in someone’s shoes, don’t try tying their laces.

    Although that syphilis comment made me chortle. 🙂

    Speak with you in a bit!

    • ginidietrich

       @DannyBrown Some people’s children. Sigh…

  • There you go again Gini… breaking misperceptions. 🙂 For every one fat-cat CEO, there’s thousands like you.  Keep it up!
    –Tony Gnau

    • ginidietrich

       @T60Productions I love the perception that every CEO is in the one percent. I made more money as an employee than I have in the past three years as a business owner. Sure, there are CEOs at the very, very top who have never had to lie awake wondering how they’re going to make payroll or, to @KDillabough ‘s point, ever had to bootstrap a company. But, for the most part, most (as you well know) struggle along with their employees.

      •  @ginidietrich  @T60Productions Sad but true:(

  • Get a coach…YES! (of course, being a coach, I’m TOTALLY biased:))) But seriously…I think people have a skewed impression of those of us in business for ourselves. When I get the “must be nice” comment from people who think I sit around eating bonbons all day (and I don’t even like chocolate!), I feel like exploding. But instead, I simply say: Yes, it’s very nice (to have had to undergo litigation, close a company, bootstrap from the ground up, be an “overnight success”, and on and on)It’s lonely, isolated, sleep-deprived, scary and challenging: and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Cheers! Kaarina

    • ginidietrich

       @KDillabough I will say the luxury of being in control of your own destiny and your own schedule is pretty nice. But sometimes (at least the last three years, as you well know) the cons outweigh the pros. You just have to plan to be in business long enough to reap rewards after the down years.

      •  @ginidietrich Totally agree Gini, and I’d say the same for me…the cons have definitely been on the winning team for me lately. But we’re marathoners, right?

  • ginidietrich

    @yourgreatlifetv Hiiiiii!

    • yourgreatlifetv

      @ginidietrich Hello dear friend.
      Sending you some love from Austin where Spring has arrived 😉

      • ginidietrich

        @yourgreatlifetv Spring has arrived here too. Two months too early.

  • StaceyHood

    @ginidietrich Especially with clear snot coming out your nose.

    • ginidietrich

      @StaceyHood It’s reaching Kleenex before it actually comes out of my nose

      • StaceyHood

        @ginidietrich Oh…well, then. Never mind.

        • barryfurby

          @StaceyHood so you guys need a few goals tonight at the Emirates… Hopefully the AC Milan back four miss their flight 😉

        • StaceyHood

          @barryfurby Stranger things have happened in the game, you know that. I think even if we don’t advance a win will do wonders for the side

  • PatriciaKellogg

    @ginidietrich When you log on Facebook Mark Zuckerberg makes $134. He is now worth 21 BILLION. Don’t make him rich! #NotOnFacebook #FB

    • ginidietrich

      @PatriciaKellogg I love FB. I’m OK with making him rich. I’d want to be rich if I came up with the idea.

  • krusk

    Hi Gini,
    I think this is great advice, not just for curbing loneliness, but also for improving your business and making one a better CEO. Kudos!

    • ginidietrich

       @krusk Thanks! It’s definitely not easy…and a job many of us learn while on the job. 

  • RichBurghgraef

    Great article, Gini; I couldn’t agree more. I love the “it must be nice” comment…sure it must be nice to: make your own schedule (which has me working more than I ever did working for someone else, even though back then I was still the first person in the office and last to leave,) find the client that makes you feel as though you have “made it,” only to have them somehow screw you over, think sometimes that working in McDonald’s would have put more money in your pocket, understand that the people you work with (no matter how entrepreneurial) will never care about the business like you do; but most importantly…know that you are doing something that will somehow, in a small way, change the world.

    • ginidietrich

       @RichBurghgraef Amen. It astounds me how critical people are because of perception. 

      • RichBurghgraef

         @ginidietrich True. It further astounds me that they are almost always wrong. I guess when you look at the sky, you can want to see the cloud or you can want to see the silver lining.

        • ginidietrich

           @RichBurghgraef Very true. 

  • Nothing to add really as you touch on some suggestions that can reduce the feeling of being on an island all by yourself. As CEO ultimately the buck stops with you and that alone can make you feel isolated at times. 
    I do think the simple task of walking around and being accessible helps you stay in touch with reality and your business. 
    Somewhere, somehow aligning yourself with some type of support/advisory group can prove to be invaluable. 
    I know, I didn’t have much to offer, but at least it was more than ‘great post’, huh? 

    • ginidietrich

       @bdorman264 LOL!! I love you, Dorman. And you’re right. Of course.

    • @bdorman264 Wow, I envy you Dorman… Gini said “you’re right” in a response to you, that never happens. You got mad skillz!

      •  @SociallyGenius  Easy now, don’t let it get out; that’s why it was buried in the bottom of the comment section……….:)

  • Don’t let the job or business become your identity, go find other interests that bring into contact with different people.  I joined Rotary and also the American Adventure Cycling Association.  I’ve met and worked with some wonderful people doing great things in the community and enjoyed some really special moments cycling down the west coast of America from Vancouver to Tijuana including coming face to face with a brown bear in the middle of the road.  I discoverd the true Russia when cycling round the Baltic for the Marie Currie Cancer Trust.  And on a day like today its great to be out in the Yorkshire Dales

    • ginidietrich

       @richardbosworth Richard! So good to see you here. Hope you’re well!!
      Great point about other interests. Like you, I do a lot of cycling. In fact, I’ve been either shipping my bike or renting one when I travel for business. It definitely helps you see parts of the world you’d never otherwise see. Though I’ve never come face-to-face with a bear.

      •  @ginidietrich
         When you meet a bear face to face your life certainly doesn’t come flashing past in front of you, more basic questions come to mind. 

  • All great points, but #4 really strikes home. As someone who’s never been a CEO (though I guess I am now, for myself), but part of the “rank and file”, I can say that the jobs where I felt the most connected and understood is where the CEO/President was someone who was willing to get his hands dirty and spend time with the rest of us. 
    On the other hand, I was in one job, in a smallish non-profit (fewer than 100 employees) where the President played the part. Just riding in the elevator with him was uncomfortable, and I do believe he tried to cultivate that “persona”. Made things incredibly rough at times. 

    • ginidietrich

       @KenMueller We had a new business meeting a year or so ago where the CEO made everyone call her doctor. She is a PhD, not a medical doctor. When I told her we’d have to change that, if she was really serious about changing the culture and building morale, she showed me the door.

      •  @ginidietrich Man, I just love people like that. Our president would only wear hand tailored Italian suits, etc. Relished the role. One of the funniest moments of my 13 years at that place was when I was working with an outsider who went to HS with our president. I said, “What was he like in HS?”
        His response: “Presidential”

        • ginidietrich

           @KenMueller I guess there are Alex Keatons alive and well in the world!

        •  @ginidietrich yeah, well, he’s actually dead now, but yeah

        • @KenMueller @ginidietrich That just inspired me to buy a PhD online from a diploma mill. I’d like to be known as Dr. G from here on out, ok?

        • Byron Fernandez

           @SociallyGenius  @KenMueller  @ginidietrich People often refer to me as Lord Byron. Bit preposterous/presumptuous but I usually just smile sheepishly and say “Thank You.” What else can you say to such silly shenanigans?

        • @Byron Fernandez @KenMueller @ginidietrich I’d make them add Sir in front of Lord Byron. What kind of manners do these people have??

        • Byron Fernandez

           @SociallyGenius  @Byron  @KenMueller  @ginidietrich Um — Stitches, you stupidSilly Man… ;D

  • lesmckeown

    On the button as usual, Gini.
    As someone who’s lived it from both sides (CEO / coach-to-CEOs) I’d add that self-awareness is an important coping mechanism at the top: frankly, most CEO ‘issues’ – including loneliness  – are, as my farmer father-in-law would say, ‘high class problems to have’.
    Sure, there are some stressed CEOs who would be stressed if they were running a free-ice-cream tasting booth in Phoenix in the summer, and they’re hard to help, but I find most CEOs only need a few minutes reflection to realize that, as one of my early mentors put it: “If it isn’t fatal, it’s only inconvenient.” And let’s face it, occasional pangs of loneliness – even frequent pangs – aren’t fatal.
    I recommend finding ways to laugh at yourself. That’s good for loneliness. Nothing sends someone your direction with a quizzical look quicker than having a good chuckle on your own 🙂 – Les

    • ginidietrich

       @lesmckeown A free ice cream tasting booth in Phoenix in summer. LOL!! If I can’t find anything to laugh at myself over, I can always laugh at you.

  • jenzings

    Good morning Gini! A few random thoughts:
    One, I agree with a few downthread who suggest that external activities that don’t relate to work can provide social groups that would help alleviate loneliness. I tend to believe that it’s within anyone’s power to expand their circles–the kicker, of course, is having the time to do so.
    Next, I think that most people (and I believe studies bear this out) differentiate between small biz CEOs and those who are making a kajillion dollars running a big company. It is the latter to whom the ire is directed. It is the news coverage–the media PR–that is generating the irritation. When one Fortune 100 company has a CEO to average worker earnings ratio of 700:1–meaning, the CEO earns $700 for every $1 the average worker at the company earns–I do think that will and should raise some eyebrows. (Even more vexing are those CEOs who mismanage a company and then are essentially fired by their board–and given more money upon leaving than most of us will see in a lifetime. It’s bizarre.)
    Your recommendations are spot-on as usual, but I think another key factor is to nurture the friendships made prior to “making it,” if at all possible.

    • ginidietrich

       @jenzings I worked at an ad agency, to build their PR department, when I first moved to Chicago. Their CEO had five VPs who all started with him when the agency began and they “grew” up together. He put all of his trust in them. In fact, one of them now is CEO. I like the idea of making friends…and not forgetting them.

  • BestRoofer

    This hits very close to home.  It’s all on the line.  There seems to be no one who understands and then I read this and know that at least I am not alone in the world.  I think that we have turned the corner but it will take a few months to know for sure.  I know that my Vistage group will understand, but I’m not so sure about my banker.
    Really wish that I had your way with words.  Great job!

    • ginidietrich

       @BestRoofer LOL! You’re right…the bankers don’t tend to understand. 

  • I can imagine it’s lonely at the top because in a company of one (ie, freelancing) it’s lonely as well.  Too much stuff to take care of all by yourself.
    But it really should not be this way.  Work should be a very social activity.  It’s been a long time since I supervised a project at a big company, but “Management by walking around” is very helpful. 
    My gut tells me that lonely work is not good work – it should be joyous and fun if it is going to be quality.  But that is not how things are constructed in our world.  This is worth thinking about a lot more, IMHO.  It all strikes me as a by-product of an industrial concept of work based on a kind of assembly line with each worker responsible for one part in a tremendous division of labor.  That can be taken to an extreme that simply does not lend itself to creativity, innovation, or even the very Deming continuous improvement. 
    OK, so it’s lonely at the top.  Does it have to be?  What makes it so?  Is that a problem for more than the CEO?

    • ginidietrich

       @wabbitoid It is so because you rarely have anyone you can talk to. Most don’t have spouses or partners who “get” it. Most don’t have someone on their leadership team who can shoulder some of the risk. Most don’t have anyone to talk to or to talk through issues and challenges.

  • Byron Fernandez

     @ginidietrich Thanks for this. 
    It’s hard to engender sympathy and change perceptions when scaling potentials. Others, including your best friends you’ve known since infancy, friends, family, colleagues — will doubt, question and patronize you.
    Because as christinacs  has mentioned, at the end of the day only You can piece together/ know the entire story of where you’ve been — and where you are Going. 
    I aspired to be an Owner, in every job I had beginning at 15. To learn, respect and cultivate the business, regardless of niche, from the bottom up.
    What spellbinds me is how people Demand and Expect so much, because they come from a sense of entitlement rather than earning/ownership. A culture of “I am employee, this is what I deserve.” 
    My favorite part:
    “There is no shame in having someone hold you accountable to the work you say you’re going to do.”
    You, paulroetzer and my PR adviser/mentor Sean Gilmore, among countless others I respect and admire, have and continue to show me the value of consistency, patience, humility and fortitude. Of embracing who you are when no one else understands or notices. Of never making promises you cannot keep. Of results and outcomes, not good intentions. 
    I’m learning to trust more easily and challenge my perceptions when dealing with others, across relationships.   
    Herb Kelleher understood what so many leaders do not: “Catch people doing right.” 3M’s founder also got it: Being a CEO isn’t walking around seeing if people are in their cubicles.”
    We’re challenging that paradigm, to “I am owner/entrepreneur, and the landscape in front of me I will till until harvest begins to grow.”
    And clearly many aren’t too peachy keen about it… 

    • ginidietrich

       @Byron Fernandez  Catch people doing right. Amen.

  • Way to bring a personal touch to this piece, Gini. You delivered a very powerful message here. Thanks for this!

    Oh, btw, next time you’re feeling lonely… Just remember you’ll always have us to pick you back up (except Howie who would probably step on your fingers while you’re reaching out for help)

    • ginidietrich

       @SociallyGenius I’m pretty sure you’re right – Howie would step on my fingers!

  • gchesman

    @john_trader1 I like that show! I wrote a post about it a while ago.

    • John_Trader1

      @gchesman great post Gabe. I haven’t seen the show, but understand the premise.

      • gchesman

        @john_trader1 It’s sad that the CEO’s need to go undercover to understand what their workforce is like.

  • What an excellent post @ginidietrich My eyes filled with tears as I read the 8th paragraph… it’s a paragraph that describe SO many of us…you’ve been there, I’ve been there…probably more than half of your community here have been there…and it IS lonely.  In my opinion, one of the reasons that it is so lonely is that, as the owner, CEO, president, whatever, we actually HAVE to hone that perception that we “made it” and that we are “fine” because our customers, clients, patients are relying on us…so, it isn’t just about the outside world misunderstanding and creating a false perception of us…often, because we can’t let our customers, colleagues, clients, patients see us as “barely making it”, we ourselves “encourage” that perception in a weird way.  It seems counter intuitive, I know.  But, speaking for myself, during those darkest of dark days, I have chosen not to let on to my staff or my patients that things are not what they seem.  Do I get furious when patients glibly remark that I must be making down payments for some imaginary boat?  You BETCHA….furious…but, I have no one to blame but myself because I choose to ignore the comments with a laugh, and I continue to project the image of success.  I don’t want sympathy…I want strength.  “Sharing” IMO will only garner sympathy….
    That said, I never thought about a coach…it is an interesting idea.  Not sure about the peer advisory group for me… My favorite though, is walk around.  In my new vision (which should become a reality in a couple of weeks….yay) there will be LOTS of walking around….LOTS.  And, I am counting on it making a difference.
    Okay….apparently I needed this post and I needed to vent….thank you for your wise insight ginidietrich 

    • ginidietrich

       @SocialMediaDDS I think it’s important to keep up the perception of success, but to do so in a way that allows people to help when it’s time. One of the biggest lessons I learned of the last three years is to ask my team for help…and not to wait too long. I’d never let clients in on it, but definitely the internal team. They’re the ones who came up with so many ideas for cost cutting that saved us.

  • I honestly havent spent too much time thinking about CEOs loneliness primarily because I have worked in start-up environments where the CEO was looked at as part of the team. He didnt have a corner office – he had a desk next to us. And those that did have an office were rarely in it and when they were, they left the door open so they can openly engage and join in conversations.
    But aside from the loneliness, I have seen leaders who were overwhelmed with slowing sales and the prospect of laying off employees. These leaders knew we were human beings too, that we had families, that we wanted to be successful, and they did everything in their power to support that. I have a feeling Gini, that you are exactly the same way. Enjoy the top and know you have lots of friends and support everywhere you look.

    • ginidietrich

       @C_Pappas Yes, I am the same way. In fact, I think about that stuff almost to a fault. It takes me a really long time to let someone go because I always believe in people and want them to have every opportunity to succeed. Sometimes it’s at the detriment of the business. But I’d rather be that way than ruthless.

  • John_Trader1

    I enjoyed this post Gini. I often think that humility is an important ingredient for any CEO and in my professional career, I have only seen a few that exhibit this.
    Just spit balling here but I wonder if reality shows like ‘Undercover Boss’ perpetuate the misperceptions that some have about the life of a CEO. Never seen the show, but I understand the premise is the CEO of a large company (who make gazillions of dollars) getting their hands dirty and experiencing grunt work to understand the culture and people of his company, something every CEO should be doing anyway. Some may naturally assume that all CEO’s are rich fatcats no matter what company it is when we know this isn’t really the case. Another case of a reality show fueling misperception.
    Maybe, we should add some letters to the CEO acronym for the type you describe in your post and call them HDCEO for “Hands Dirty Chief Executive Officer” – or maybe someone else has a better acronym to describe them?

    •  @John_Trader1 FWIW, I have seen Undercover Boss many times and it does make every CEO appear to be quite affluent.
      It also thrives on placing them in challenging situations in which a low level worker is shown to be quite skilled at a task while the CEO fumbles. It doesn’t provide much background on how they obtained their position.

    • ginidietrich

       @John_Trader1 It’s like anything else, right? I mean Wag the Dog wasn’t representative of the work I do every day, yet it’s what’s referred to when someone asks what I do for a living. I had a couple of really junior people a couple of years ago that I overheard talking about me. We had just removed some luxuries, such as free breakfast, because we knew the economy was going to hit us and we wanted to be ready. I stopped paying myself, in order to keep some cash in the business. And these little sh*ts were saying, “I can’t believe she’s taking away our breakfast when she drives a BMW.”
      Right then and there I decided to open the books so everyone could see I was sacrificing along with them.

      •  @ginidietrich  @John_Trader1 Just goes to show…we can’t win for losing:) Even with open books they think we’re livin’ the high life. Go figure.

        • ginidietrich

           @KDillabough  I’ve rarely been as angry as i was that day.

        •  @ginidietrich I feel your pain. Been in situations where I wish I hadn’t heard what I heard.

      • belllindsay

         @ginidietrich OH MY GOD!! Are you serious!! Man, had *I* been CEO I would have fired their asses right then and there! But you’re nicer than I am. Insufferable little know-nothings! 

        • ginidietrich

           @belllindsay You learn A LOT of patience in this job. They both got a good talking to and then I told them that what I’ve learned is to have complete transparency. So they helped me put together the financials so it was easily understood by everyone in the organization.
          Of course, it took me about four days to confront it because I was so angry I didn’t want to say anything I”d regret.

        • John_Trader1

           @ginidietrich  @belllindsay Oh to have been a fly on the wall of that room.

  • KDillabough

    @paulcastain @ginidietrich Thanks Paul: I appreciate it!

    • paulcastain

      @KDillabough Always a pleasure Kaarina! Have a wonderful day!

      • KDillabough

        @paulcastain You too Paul!

      • IBAL

        @paulcastain Appreciate the card! Really like the new biz card too

        • paulcastain

          @IBAL Thanks Kathleen. You are appreciated my friend!

        • IBAL

          @paulcastain 🙂

  • PattiRoseKnight

    I’ve worked before where they asked senior management to walk around and mingle with the staff.  Some did well and some not so much.  I have told you more than once how I love the Arment Dietrich culture with face-to-face time with the CEO.  That doesn’t happen often at a bigger agency.

    • ginidietrich

       @PattiRoseKnight Now let’s hope we can keep it up as we grow. That’s going to be our biggest challenge!

  • Well Gini, I see your point but probably they were not talking about small business CEO but bigger ones. Being self employed I’m my own Ceo and boss and President and whatever but in that article they were not talking about me I guess. 🙂
    While I agree with you basically, and I know some business owners who have sold apartments to pay employees every month during this crisis, the great majority of CEO especially those working in public companies don’t even lose one hour of sleep thinking about employees and would gladly fire 1000s of them to keep their bonus, benefits and maybe an apartment at Sant Moritz. For shareholders is more or less the same.
    Listen, if there were so many ethic and human CEOs around do you think we would live in the world we are living today? Well, unless someone still thinks that the world is run by politicians. As Seth Godin said somewhere in time Politicians quitted caring about people and begun caring about money. Usually that money comes from people with private airplanes, mansions for homes and so on. Am I wrong? 🙂

    • ginidietrich

       @Andrea Hypno I think that’s a gross generalization. Maybe *some* CEOs would behave in this manner, but not most. I have friends who run billion dollar businesses. Some of them built the companies themselves and others are what we call hired guns. But those people care about their teams and would not fire employees to keep their bonuses and benefits. In fact, most would give up both in order to keep people employed. It’s really too bad such a small minority of business leaders ruin the reputation for the rest.
      My husband is in politics. He raises money. Most of the people who donate to politicians are not those with private airplanes and mansions. Most are people like you and me giving a few hundred dollars here and there. We only hear about the grandiose donations because those are what’s interesting to talk about.

      •  @ginidietrich Surely it’s a generalization and there are many exceptions. I usually think that the big difference lies in if the company is privately owned or public but I have to admit that there are many small business owners who think employees are slightly over slaves too. Anyway I guess that those CEO of big companies are selected according to certain characteristics. And one of them, generalizing, is not being sentimental. That’s why people like Andrew Carnegie are so famous, because there were and are very few of them. Just like enlightened leaders.
        As for politics there is a different between being involved or being a politician. Here in Italy people simply “change” when they get to Rome, I don’t know if in Washington is the same. But I do know that if you put someone in the leading position of something then you control his or her decisions. And once you control the head, you control everything. So we could also say that we hear about generous donations because these are the ones which influence decisions. Again generalizing. 😉
        Your point is valid, being at the top it’s easy to be lonely, but these are the rules of the game, sometimes the CEO wants to stay at the top of others because he/she feels being above everyone else, sometimes it’s because not everyone can see and understand how being a CEO means. I guess both leaders and boss are lonely because good or bad this is a feature of being at the top of something. But regarding those with mansions and airplanes I don’t think they care being alone, because they like it. Creme de la creme, so to say. 🙂

        • ginidietrich

           @Andrea Hypno Darn. I think we agree. I really wanted some more debate with you. But, you’re right. When most politicians get to Washington, they change.
          You know what conversation I would LOVE to have with you?! Amanda Knox.

        •  @ginidietrich Sorry, I can’t debate too much with a Lady. 🙂 
          Amanda Knox. What can I say? The Italian Police has the bad habit of choosing a guilty and looking for evidences to prove their theory, if they ever find them. Then if it happens that someone cannot be proved guilty they choose another target and begin the story again. Mix this with the fact that the head of investigation is not a detective but a judge whom no one knows how well trained in investigations is and you have the perfect mixture to find offenders very seldomly.
          This way evidences, if found somewhere which is hard enough, are touched tens of times and become at best worthless. They almost never follow evidences to the guilty. No CSI school here and no Sherlock Holmes as well. Might be because in this case they must arrest the offender and here not everyone can be arrested. Not that we don’t have great policemen or great judges but they are usually kept quiet. Plus our laws are, well, messy?
          Do I have to say more? 🙂

        • ginidietrich

           @Andrea Hypno So…do you think she did it? I’m fascinated by the difference between Italy and the U.S. Here, we absolutely do not think she did it. But I’ve asked many Italians and they all think she did. So I wonder…is it a function of our media and what they’re reporting?

        •  @ginidietrich  The problem is that we can’t know if she did it or not thanks to the investigative techniques used. You see, the main point here is having someone to confess, if they don’t find one with the bad use of evidences, and if there is a good lawyer involved, then there is pratically no way to find out who did what. Sure the trial can go on for years and maybe you get imprisoned, so that later on you can ask for a reimbursement but actually it’s easier to have an innocent in prison than a guilty. Obviously it’s a gross generalization but I guess you get the point.
          The focus is on having confession because they mishandle, or are not really able to handle and follow evidences. To give you an example I don’t know if you know about Cogne, it’s a small city in Valle D’Aosta where some years ago a baby has been killed in his home. At home there were his mother and his brother. It seems that he’s been hit with an unknown object more than ten times. After years of trial and approximately fifty overviews from scientific teams the mother has been claimed guilty and sent to prison. No witnesses, unclear evidences, one person left so she must be the guilty.
          In another place detectives would have asked: if the sure point is that the baby has been hit twenty plus times with an unknown object and was still breathing when the helicopter ambulance arrived who can hit a baby so many times without killing him immediately? Are we taking about a female adult with an average strength or should be looking around more? Where do evidences point to? Ok, I’m a Sherlock Holmes fan since I was a teenager but detectives should have an open mind approach to have results and not focus on “It should have been him”, “No he doesn’t confess and there are no evidences”, “Let’s move to someone else”, and so on. Evidences becomes cold and only a miracle can solve the case. Or chance.
          They generally are not good to find evidences and worse at handling them so who knows what really happened with Amanda Knox and his boyfriend? I guess they don’t even know how many people were involved or present. It’s the approach which is wrong. And there are many other high profiles cases closing with a “Well, we just don’t know”.
          Unless evidences, or a surviving witness, are as big and shiny as a highway advertisement understanding what happened is pretty hard. Almost all the times.
          Clearly, this is just my opinion. There are many professionists here but it seems that almost all high profile cases gets affected by Gremlins’ curse. 🙂

        • ginidietrich

           @Andrea Hypno This is fascinating! As much as our judicial system is broken, it’s great compared to this!

  • jackinessity

    @ginidietrich are you lonely?

    • ginidietrich

      @jackinessity Not when you tweet me!

      • jackinessity

        @ginidietrich good 🙂

  • The problem is that many CEO’s even of smaller offices CHOOSE to separate themselves from staff. When I worked in a mid-sized law firm in Manhattan, if you were not an attorney, the CEO never, ever spoke to you. You did not exist unless he needed something. That is where workers develop that lack of empathy.
    To make things worse, I also worked for someone who would not do certain tasks even though the office was very small. When  you have a really small team, it makes a huge difference if the big boss is willing to do mundane tasks every once in a while. The biggest problem with that boss was that “us vs. them” mentality that he seemed to have. He was lonely. He was really quite miserable, but he did it to himself by being in his office all day, and not taking care of small problems. He would let them turn into huge issues and morale suffered.
    Where I am now is much more relaxed. There needs to be ways for workers (and CEO’s) to blow off steam from time to time. The problem is we make everyone dread going to work instead of loving it. That mentality is what really needs to change. 

    • ginidietrich

       @NancyD68 It certainly depends on the attitude of the CEO ( @KenMueller said the same about a former employer). But, on the whole, I think most of us are just trying to hold it all together while being human, as well. The past three years were certainly very lonely for me and I’m not hiding or making myself inaccessible. 

      •  @ginidietrich @KenMueller @NancyD68 the problem is as CEO can you handle getting to know people you might fire? That is the challenge.
        I bet you most cases where you fire someone you became friendly with, the friendship ends.

        • ginidietrich

           @HowieSPM   @NancyD68 About five years ago, I went through a big personal crisis when I discovered my team was having drinks and I was never invited. It really hurt my feelings. But then I realized I couldn’t be friends with most at that level. It’s too hard to separate business and personal when you get that close to the people who work with you. And I’m far too lenient when it comes to giving people every opportunity to succeed. 

        •  @ginidietrich  @HowieSPM  @NancyD68 Wow. your team invited ME for drinks. Gini, I always wondered why you weren’t there!

  • Leon

    G’Day Gini,
    Of course it’s lonely at the top. Sadly, some CEOs are the architects of their own loneliness. I sometimes wonder whether CEOs get just a bit scared when they see just how far they might fall and how smooth and slippery the slide is.
    So…if  that husband of yours gets too busy raising money for politicians, let me know and I’ll send some supercharged hugs through the blogosphere  to assuage your loneliness.
    All part of the service…..!
    Best Wishes

    • ginidietrich

       @Leon WOW! I didn’t know this was part of the service. I would have taken you up on it months ago!

      •  @ginidietrich @Leon he also raises money for good causes like National Sheep Herding Appreciation Day and the Men who miss their cats org.

        •  @HowieSPM  @ginidietrich  @Leon It is a good thing I didn’t see this until 1 :15 am- got no time to enjoy the many comments that should spring from it.

  • ginidietrich

    @Steveology I love you because you’re beautiful

    • Steveology

      @ginidietrich 🙂

  • WorkMommyWork

    @spinsucks Amen sister! @ginidietrich I’m lonely at the top of a 3 person marketing agency based out of the basement of my house! Yikes!

    • ginidietrich

      @WorkMommyWork It’s hard when you don’t have peers you can talk to

  • I think one of the best ways that CEOs can fight loneliness AND grow their business is, as many here have suggested, get out of their corner office, walk the floor, forge personal relationships with the staff, ask good questions, really listen to the answers, and be brave in making decisions. That’s my perception of what Tom Coyne of Coyne PR did when the agency was five people, 30, 75, and now over 100. My sense is that even as they’ve grown, all staff members feel a special connection to him. I recently visited their cool new digs, and even though they have a putting green, multiple conference rooms that open on to one another via “garage doors,” pool table, manicure space and “tranquility room,” Tom has a relatively small, quite modest office. He doesn’t need a large space, because he’s either with clients, in brainstorms, in other staffers’ offices or walking the hallways. Tom’s many things, but I’m guessing he’s never lonely!

    • ginidietrich

       @KensViews I would guess even Tom is lonely occasionally. Even if you have the best leadership team and the best staff, there are things you just can’t talk to them about. And, unless you have partners shouldering as much risk as you do, it’s rare anyone else understands. 

      • You’re dissing my word choice when you know I’m running a fever?   @ginidietrich 🙂   Ok, change “never” to “infrequently.”  To your point, he does have a president and other officers, many of whom he’s worked with for some time. Some were probably part of his initial team when he launched the business, or joined soon after. I believe that they understand one another’s shorthand, and have a good grasp on one another’s strengths and weaknesses. Now where’s my fruit basket?!

        • ginidietrich

           @KensViews If you still have a fever, you’d better get yourself to the hospital!

        •  @ginidietrich I can’t go to the hospital. I don’t want to risk not being here when your fruit basket arrives! 

        • ginidietrich

           @KensViews I’ll send it to the hospital!

        •  @ginidietrich The nearest one is University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro. Not the one on “House.” The real one! BTW, I like pineapple and strawberries.

  • Oh @ginidietrich @ginidietrich @ginidietrich we have a PR problem here and I am so happy you bring it up. Yes you and I and many other CEO’s who struggle and while our title is nice we aren’t raking in 8 figures a year. It is our fault we let the press and politicians showcase the big time arses who screw employees, shareholders, governments, communities etc and thus deserve the lonely life proving money can’t buy happiness.
    We have no one showcasing us. The fact that we hope one day maybe we can become a big business but making a difference where we work and what we do is important. If we can hire 4 or 30 employees and make it a lucrative situation for all. Where we care about community and while we can’t pay for our name to be on a new library the ones who can often never enter that community and we work there, live there, shop there.
    Yes we have a PR problem. We are the 99% CEO’s and we are not going to take it any more!
    And as always your advice is on the money!

    • ginidietrich

       @HowieSPM Well, speak for yourself. I’m making nine figures.
      I remember about several months ago when Obama put Jeff Immelt as jobs czar. I shook my head. As much as I respect Immelt, he doesn’t represent most of American business leaders. 
      But just like anything else, it’s not exciting to talk about the small and mid-sized businesses that don’t make anything interesting and are doing right by their employees.

  • geoffliving

    I don’t miss running/ruining companies.

    • ginidietrich

       @geoffliving It’s rough some days…as you well know.

  • Enjoyed reading this Gini – good reminder – and something that many of us probably don’t think about.  I am no longer a CEO (downgrade – boo!!) – but been there with small and small (ish) companies – so it reads true as you write….  The practices you propose also can apply to many at any stage in business (good skills to learn as you make your way to CEO!!) – so I needed the reminder to get myself organized out here in the heat…
    When I was a CEO (before I was cut off in my prime / before I was “found out” ) – my approach was to remember that we are all human and a title is just that.  I try to treat everyone as I would want to be treated.  Yes, you have a job to do for sure – and treat that responsibly as well – but my approach has always been one of people first… (unless one is at a Dog Show – then people first would be a bit odd!).
    Will be interesting to see how I approach dealing with this reminder now in my new culture.
    PS – we won a big game and the Sultan gave a rather large bonus to the team (maybe if I had been CEO – I would been in my 5 star jet, sipping my non-alcoholic champagne on route to the 7* Dubai hotel! – onward and upward).

    • ginidietrich

       @Nic_Cartwright It sounds like the Sultan knows what he’s doing! How are things going out there?

      •  @ginidietrich all good basically….  slow (internet finally 95% fixed)…  but good….  the heat is about a month away – which will be next challenge….  huge growth in the region…..  first arabic lesson y’day….!!

  • vernafranklin1

    @John_Trader1 Is your job beating you down? Let me help you start a home business. You can do it I promise! thecashjournalsite .com

  • RanchodoSol

    It’s Lonely At the Top – – via @ginidietrich

  • HLeichsenring

    Great article Gini. You are absolutely right.
    That is one of the reason, you need good friends, whom you could talk too, when times get rough.
    Kind regards from Germany

    • ginidietrich

       @HLeichsenring Exactly right. We all need peers, no matter how experienced we are or whether or not we’ve “made” it.

  • belllindsay

    I’m a day late and a dollar short but what a brilliant post @ginidietrich . And some inspired convo in the comments section. I think when you’re a younger employee, you *assume* that all the CEOs are rich, heartless bastards. But when you get a bit – ahem – older you realize that isn’t the norm. Huge props to you and the @HowieSPM ‘s of the world who are keeping it real. 🙂  Thanks for sharing this. 

    • ginidietrich

       @belllindsay  It’s not a day late, is it??

      • belllindsay

         @ginidietrich Isn’t this yesterday’s post…? 😉

        • ginidietrich

           @belllindsay Oh. I suppose so. Yes. But, as you can see, it doesn’t really matter.

  • belllindsay

    @KBHouston Thanks for the RT Kristy! 🙂

  • AdamLehman

    @OHGrowthSummit @SpinSucks solid article. Good share.

  • I know I’m late to this G’ but I loved the personal, reflective feel of this post, and certainly felt like you were reliving my past when you talked about the dark side of being a CEO. It’s real perspectives like this one that so many people lose sight of.
    Thanks for being awesome,

    • ginidietrich

       @Marcus_Sheridan You know exactly what I’m talking about. And no amount of money or success can make you happy when you’re faced with business challenges. It’s not fun all the time.

  • I can’t find the proper comment stream, but you made two particularly smart points in response to @belllindsay  1) Transparency will take you far; and 2) You cannot lead when you’re angry at your followers.  So take a deep breath, go for a bike ride (even though you are only an “mediocre” biker LOL)  or even wait a few days, as you did, before discussing sensitive issues with the team.  This gives you, as leader time to consider 1) Why am I angry at them?;  2) Why are they not understanding this unfortunate, but necessary business decision and 3) How can I explain the perspective from up here in a way that they’ll understand and to which they’ll relate

    • belllindsay

       @KensViews I wouldn’t have actually fired them then and there. But I sure would have felt like it! 😉 

    • ginidietrich

       @KensViews  You. Are. Such. A. Brat. 

      •  @ginidietrich Was this in response to one of my comments, or just an overall observation?  Probably vitamin C deprived.  That’s what happens when you’re sick and your “friends” can’t be bothered to send you a fruit basket.  🙁

        • ginidietrich

           @KensViews For this: So take a deep breath, go for a bike ride (even though you are only an “mediocre” biker)

  • ginidietrich

    @AnneReuss 🙂

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  • This is a great article and was very much needed for me today. I host a forum on Thursday’s for people to interact with me about my new website and I get several people to look at it but only a few have contributed (no one last week). Those that are not part of my new company think all is well and skies the limit for me but the truth is the site and concept is an awesome idea that everyone agrees on but no one wants to contribution to help get it off the ground. Which makes me hear crickets a lot. LOL. Thanks again for posting this and I will use several of the ideas that were mentioned here.

    •  @ltickles It’s certainly hard when you’re going it alone. Good luck!