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Lonely at the Top: How Do Senior Leaders Navigate the Need to Belong?

ISI: Lonely at the Top: How Do Senior Leaders Navigate the Need to Belong?

JESSY ZUMAETA V.

2018 - Forthcoming - Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Abstract

Despite the considerable literature on leadership, very little research explores how leaders experience their role, especially in senior-level positions. This study examines the socioemotional costs of being a high-ranking leader in a corporate context. In-depth interviews with C-suite executives were conducted revealing that loneliness is a professional hazard. Top executives are more prone to be lonely due to the pressures of the role: increased social distance, lack of social support, and exhaustion related to the role. Two ongoing conflicts in the position (Role vs. Person and Distance vs. Closeness) and four coping strategies were identified (mental and physical disconnection, healthy lifestyle, support from one’s network, and affecting and influencing others). Finally, the research revealed that some organizational conditions could also increase the risk of loneliness at the top (e.g., high–power distance culture). This study provides an empirical foundation to manage top executives’ behavior and well-being. Leaders and HR practitioners should raise awareness and take action to contribute to senior managers’ welfare, and ultimately, to organizational success.

Keywords

emotion and leadership, senior executives, need to belong, loneliness, managerial well-being

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