“It’s lonely at the top” isn’t just a saying, it’s a truth. One of the toughest things about running your own business is the feeling of loneliness and isolation. You are on your own and nobody supports you because it’s hard for them to see what you see and feel the excitement that you feel at the critical stages. This is especially true when you enter a period of Exit Planning to get yourself and your business ready for an ownership transition.
It doesn’t have to be lonely at the top. Here are some ways to burst through the loneliness of being an owner who is actively working on Exit Planning, and remain the healthy and respected leader of your business
Join peer business groups. Join business organizations of like-minded executives. They provide a safe harbor to come talk about issues of leadership with other business owners. Groups like Vistage International the Inner Circle and Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) are excellent. Go Beyond LLC offers two types of peer groups: Elim Groups consist of 10-12 business owners who share a 5-month educational program around the stages of value maturity; Power 5 groups consist of 4-5 business owners to support each other through a year-long program of business Exit Planning.
Build a trusted team. Most people by nature get some satisfaction from team interaction, working toward the same goal. Building a strong management team is one of the most important steps in creating a salable business and growing market value. If you hire the right people, they will become a team of trusted collaborators. Make sure you don’t keep them in the dark about your plans to exit the business. Give them a long-term incentive plan to keep them engaged, and together you will be able to maximize the value of your business.
Balance home and family. The best leaders are able to maintain a balance in their lives. Maintain a separation between your life and the business. Buyers won’t be as interested in a business that can’t run without you, and selling a business that is inseparable from your life and sense of identity would be enormously painful. Prioritize your key relationships and keep them healthy.
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. I try to start every morning thanking God for the day that is beginning and for all the opportunities and challenges the day will bring. Tony Robbins makes sure that part of his morning routine is thinking of three things he’s grateful for. Follow the same routine before bed. Write down three people you are thankful for in your life. Gratitude does wonders for combating stress and loneliness.
Develop a list of “2 a.m. friends.” The world is more connected than ever, right? No. People feel more lonely in the modern world of technology than ever before. Sure, it’s nice to receive 549 birthday wishes on Facebook, but who in your life can you really count on? Very few people have a few really reliable friends. How do you know if you pass the test? Answer this, “If you got arrested at 2 a.m., who would you call to bail you out?” Can you name anyone outside of your immediate family? Family is great, but you need others to have true community and shield yourself from loneliness.
Plan regular networking lunches. Get out of the office on a regular basis to break up the frustrations of daily crises. This combats the isolation that sometimes comes with leadership, helps you broaden your perspective, and gives moments of pure relaxation.
Nurture your charismatic side. Charismatic leaders don’t feel the loneliness, and use a wide range of methods to manage their image. If you are not naturally charismatic, practice diligently to develop these skills of body language and verbal language.
Maintain non-business activities. Hearing about your virtual coworkers going hiking, or just spending some time resting and relaxing can be very detrimental to your self esteem. Work to keep up on your own hobbies, and participate in community action events.
Let a select few see your frailties and fears. Pretending we have it all together only builds the walls of loneliness higher. On the other hand, opening the door to our frailties invites others in. A trusted team member is usually a safe start.
Build a good board of advisors. People under-estimate the value of a good board. Every owner has a constellation of advisors: attorneys, accountants, bankers, financial planners, insurance brokers, etc. They usually work separately, but if you have engaged the help of a Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA), he can help you form a board from this loose group of advisors. With the CEPA playing quarterback, your board can collaborate with you openly, give advice, and provide you back-up especially when taking a risk. The point is to have 4-5 people you can go to regularly to bounce around ideas, discuss fears and challenges, and gain perspective.
Get a coach or a mentor. A coach can be helpful because he or she can discuss issues with no vested interest in the client’s decision — unlike nearly everyone else in their life. A good coach helps you see blind spots and get underneath issues, not just attack them at the surface. In the context of your Exit Planning experience, your Value Advisor (the lead Certified Exit Planning Advisor), often fills the role of coach because he or she has a) a holistic perspective of both your personal/financial situation and your business and b) is 100% dedicated to your successful transition from business ownership. A mentor who serves the same function in an unpaid relationship. Finding a leader with past experience relevant to yours, who is motivated to be your mentor, can be a big advantage. That person knows how hard it is to be in your shoes because they were there once. Perhaps it’s why they’ll jump in to help you now.
Don’t neglect your spiritual side. A healthy relationship with the One who made you will help keep you grounded, give you direction, and provide hope. Setting aside time for prayer can drive away the loneliness and isolation that’s a natural part of leading a business, especially during the Exit Planning process. Cultivating a habit of prayer and meditation will remind you that you are never really alone.