How Group Coaching Helps Overcome the Loneliness of Being a Leader

Everyone, meet John. My client John is the IT General Manager who supervises the entire IT structure of a global company with 14,000 employees. A few weeks ago he showed up at our group coaching session explaining that his company was the victim of an all too familiar hacking attack, and he had to make a decision:

  1. Try to resolve the issue by implementing measures while people continue working, with the danger of the virus spreading through the network.

  2. Shutting down everything for three days to run all the security measures which will completely clean the system. Shutting down 14,000 people for three days. Imagine that.

The group members fell silent. Everybody felt the enormous amount of responsibility that John was holding by taking one decision or another, and none of them could relate to his specific experience to give technical advice.

This happens often during group coaching. You create a group with people that can be considered your peers based on level of experience and position, but they often come from very different professional fields, so most of the time they don’t know the ins and outs of someone else’s job. The point of group coaching is not to have a group of expert advisors who can give solutions to the one presenting their issue, but people who can empathize with them and support them in the exploration of their possible solutions. Most importantly, being around others who can build a safe container by listening and being present for whoever is presenting their problem, and for each other.

During the session, everybody offered their experience or asked questions to John, who, in the end, came to his solution. He had implemented a series of measures for these kinds of situations which were perfectly apt to what he needed. He was the expert at his job, and he didn’t need the others’ advice. What he did need was their presence and to share his responsibility with someone else. For John to say those words, he was able to let go of some of the pressure and identify the problem without holding it in and letting it magnify internally.

His feedback at the end of the session during the debrief was as follows: “this group coaching session helped me to step back from this stressful situation. My peers’ presence and care reduced my loneliness in this difficult decision. I felt the power of a community which helped me to move forward with a clear mind.”

Loneliness is a real problem for leaders, and it’s not because they are physically isolated. Who spends more time in meetings than a CEO? The core of the issue is the lack of opportunities to open up and be vulnerable in front of others, to have authentic human connection without fear of “losing face” if they are unsure how to move forward or doubting their capabilities or their strategy.

Some research suggests the importance of having friends at work would be wonderful, but it’s often not easy for the double role you need to play - as a professional and as a person. Group coaching helps leaders find peers who understand what it means to feel isolated and lonely during the decision-making process, and what it means to hold responsibility in a business. We are humans and can only do the best we can do in the time we are given. No leader is perfect, and there’s no strategy to make the perfect decision or have a guaranteed outcome. However, we can live through the process differently…not alone, which entirely changes the way we approach our issue.

The mere presence of others made John pursue his strategy with a completely different mindset and “heartset.” He felt supported and therefore more confident and grounded. He was able to receive the message that his feelings of uncertainty and responsibility were shared, understood, human, and completely natural. All John can do is the best he can with his expertise.

Making difficult decisions is never easy or never perfect, but lending a helping hand to others, whether energetically or metaphorically, helps us feel like it’s going to be ok.

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