Lonely at the top – entrepreneurs can often feel isolated and alone

Neil Francis offers solutions for SME founders who feel isolated

The effects of loneliness on you and how you cope with it as an entrepreneur will be very challenging if you don’t have strategies and ideas on how to manage it.

As an entrepreneur, this feeling of isolation will be one of the biggest challenges you will have to face. The accepted and expected ”public face” of a successful entrepreneur should ooze confidence, control, decisiveness and direction to clients, staff, other directors, shareholders and investors. Therefore, it is understandable that any entrepreneur could find it difficult to talk with key staff or their boards about their biggest problems and deepest fears. You don’t want to appear vulnerable.

As an entrepreneur who wants to be successful, it is likely that you will employ many people, work with lots of clients, attend lots of meetings, be asked to read many reports and proposals, and seem to be constantly on the phone or emails.

And there lies the real paradox.

Despite being surrounded by loads of people who work for you and having teams at your beck and call, you will sometimes feel terribly alone. You may be always busy, in constant demand ad interacting with other people, but this will give you a false sense of being connected. Trust me, you will have plenty of people to talk to, but few with whom you can really share the deep concerns, frustrations and challenges that you are facing. And it’s this inability to share what you are really feeling that can create a huge sense of isolation.

Loneliness can manifest as real frustration that affects not only your performance but also your personal relationships and health

It can also be difficult to socialise with colleagues who work for you. Everyone is on their best behaviour when they go out with the boss. Friendship and chumminess at a rugby game or at the bar can often feel strained and false.

But what about the entrepreneurs who don’t want to build a company? Those who prefer working on their own – the solo entrepreneurs? Solo entrepreneurs in the main run their business from home – usually in a dedicated space. There is the same problem though – a feeling of isolation and loneliness, but with different challenges.

This time the loneliness is mainly caused by limited opportunities to interact with others. When solo entrepreneurs make a coffee in the morning, there is no prospect of bumping into someone in the office kitchen with whom you can have an informal chat. When they go and grab a sandwich at lunchtime, they will not meet other people from the company. And when they have an idea or a problem they can’t solve, they can’t just walk into someone’s office and chat it through. All of this, and more, can make for a very lonely scenario.

The problem with both of these scenarios – the entrepreneurs who work with many people and the solo entrepreneurs – is serious. If it’s not managed, this feeling of loneliness can manifest as real frustration that starts to affect not only your performance as an entrepreneur, but also your personal relationships and your health.

So, what can you do?

Whether you are an entrepreneur employing many staff and with a board to report to or whether you are going to remains a solo entrepreneur, let me suggest the following ideas to help you manage your loneliness.

Find yourself a mentor

It is all about building a team around you that you trust. The first and most fundamental thing is that you have someone who you can talk to openly and regularly who is already a proven entrepreneur. That does not necessarily mean that they have business failure can prove to be really helpful. I would call this person your mentor or coach. This is an individual you will meet on a regular basis – a minimum of once a month – to talk to and share your concerns and thoughts about your progress as an entrepreneur.

Where do you find these mentors and coaches, you might ask? One source is networking events, or you could identify entrepreneurs you really admire in business and approach them, meet up with them over a coffee or lunch, and see whether there is a real chemistry between you. If there is, then meet them a few times more and then ask whether they are willing to be your mentor or coach. Obviously, you will need to pay for this, but from my experience, it is one of the best investments you will ever make.

Join an entrepreneurs’ group

Secondly, join an entrepreneur’s group. If you are unaware of where to find such a group, just Google “entrepreneur’s group” and you will find many listed. Over the past 10 years, a variety of entrepreneur’s networks have been set up. Also known as “entrepreneurs’ peer groups”, they typically consist of eight to 12 entrepreneurs who get together for frank discussions on how they can better manage their businesses and, often, their lives.

These groups normally meet a minimum of six times per year and each meeting can last anywhere from half a day to a full day. They provide an excellent forum in which to talk and discuss the big challenges you are facing as an entrepreneur. You will get fantastic advice and guidance, as well as being able to help other entrepreneurs in the group. These groups will often have a guest speaker, again someone to whom you will be able to relate.

Neil Francis is the author of The Entrepreneur’s Book: The Crucial ‘Why’ Questions That Determine Success