It’s lonely at the top: The importance of peer groups to executives—it shouldn’t be lonely for leaders and finding a group of like-minded people can help them both emotionally and professionally.
It may sound like a cliché to say it’s lonely at the top, but in the case of senior executives, it might just be true.
According to a study done by Harvard Business Review, half of chief executive officers (CEOs) experience the feeling of loneliness and 61% of them state that the issue hindered their performance at work. In Singapore, the problem is particularly acute as there is a lack of peers for senior executives in the region.
Many executives find themselves with limited options on who they can turn to for advice. It can get extremely challenging for them as they need to grapple with an increasingly diverse set of challenges ranging from rising protectionism to the threats and opportunities created by digitisation. Meanwhile, CEOs and country directors in Europe have other people at their level in different countries across the continent that they can seek advice from, a significant portion of CEOs or regional directors in Asia do not have this option.
Executive loneliness is worse in Singapore as executives often have to report to head offices in Europe or the US, which means they need to work late to ensure there is an overlap in the two locations’ working days. In the end, these long working hours left no time for them to develop a strong network which can result in feelings of isolation.
It may be tempting to ignore it if the situation only affects executives as individuals but there is growing evidence that being a part of an effective professional network has a significant positive impact on the businesses they head up, especially if they are in a growing phase or are expanding into new markets.
To no one’s surprise, the issue regarding executive loneliness has spawned a range of industries with companies offering multiple services from executive coaching and mentoring to help executives feel more supported to charging SG$1,500 per hour to set up phone calls with experts whenever executives feel like they need a specialist’s advice.
However, these services are ripe for disruption because there really is no substitute for sitting in a room and talking to trusted peers who share the same challenges as you. You can talk about issues ranging from whether or not you should accept a new job offer to learning how to transfer pricing rules that may impact your company when it opens a new office in Vietnam.
What Can Singaporean Executives Do?
- Join an executive network
Look for online and offline groups with members between 30 to 35 people who are at the same level of leadership as you. Any less than 30 people and you will not have enough reach and any more than 35 will make it too big to make a difference. In Singapore, there are at least nine different peer groups. To name a few, there are one for HR leaders, regional supply chain heads, regional finance heads, and regional marketing directors.
2. Get together
Plan a meeting between four to five times a year and each meeting should be chaired by a professional facilitator to ensure that the discussion is on track. Especially when everyone is fairly busy and there are pressures on the executives’ time, the sessions need to be productive.
From topics surrounding whether or not they should accept a new job offer to learning how to transfer pricing rules or what might impact their company when it opens up a new office, these are the topics that network members should talk about and receive advice from.
Haider Manasawala, director and general manager finance and planning, Asia Pacific region at Chevron Oronite has experienced the value of executive networks first-hand. According to him, the executive networks is a good forum for exchanging thoughts and seeking reciprocal help when dealing with frequent and typical challenges and opportunities.
“Its wide network of accomplished professionals acts as a valuable resource and a sounding board to bounce ideas off to gain fresh insights into problems and solutions that may not have been readily apparent,” he added.
“Birds of a feather flock together”—only executives could truly fathom the stress of being on top of the corporate ladder, which is why a support network of like-minded people can bring dozens of answers to executives’ burning questions.
Executives have shown time and time again that they are willing to assist their peers despite their busy schedules. It is their way of expressing that it does not have to be lonely at the top.