Loneliness in Leadership

August 15, 2011

The saying, “It’s lonely at the top” reflects the fact that part of the nature of leadership is a sense of being all alone – a kind of loneliness. Some leaders are better equipped emotionally to deal with the lonely feelings and challenges of leadership than others. Some leaders even seem to thrive in times of loneliness. Carl Sandburg wrote, “Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Lincoln never saw a movie, heard a radio, or looked at TV. They had a ‘loneliness’ and knew what to do with it. They were not afraid of being lonely, because they knew that was when the creative mood in them would work.”

Other leaders, many pastors included, are not so inclined to accept this loneliness and use it to their advantage. We identify more with Albert Einstein who once said, “It is strange to be known so universally and yet be so lonely.” (It may be the only way we identify with Einstein!) While none of us are universally known like Einstein, we are widely known in the church and community simply because of the position we hold as pastor, yet we are lonely, in part, because we are known for our position more than we are known as a person.

The demands of leadership create and even require times of loneliness. On the other hand, the loneliness of leadership demands real, life-giving friendships and deep relationships with those who know and love us as people first and  leaders second.

(Adapted from The Pickled Priest and the Perishing Parish.)

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