It’s Lonely at the Top
How leadership may not win you friends.
Someone once told me that it’s “lonely at the top”. Maybe I read that somewhere. When I went to Google the quote, who popped up but none other than Tim Ferriss, podcaster extraordinaire and admittedly one of my favorites. Here is what he said in his breakthrough book the Four-Hour work week:
“It’s lonely at the top. Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals, paradoxically making them the most time and energy-consuming.”
When I was writing this I was thinking of the notion that when one is thrust into a position of leadership whether by choice or acclimation, they are often either admired or chastised. In fact my rule of thumb has been and I can be quoted as saying “when one is a leader half the people love you and half the people hate you.” The median leader so to speak.
I would also argue that people don’t necessarily aim for the mediocre. Unless compelled, most people don’t aim for anything at all. Oh sure, they want the house and two kids, nice cars and pension or retirement, but that would be mediocre I suppose. Not judging, but admit it, that would be categorized under mediocre.
I’ve experienced this dichotomy of praise and hate in my career leading organizations. If you realize this condition and realize that you should put no credence in any either end of this spectrum, e.g. you don’t care if people love you or hate you, then you will be able to effectively lead.
The reason is you will make decisions based on sound principles. What those principles are may differ, but they should be something like what the stoics held high and those are the principles of “Courage, Temperance, Justice and Wisdom”.
With these principles one can lead any group. Of course, training yourself up to lead and under the banner of these principles is easier said than done. You will make mistakes and you will stumble along the way. I have many times. Sometimes no one notices and sometimes they do.
If they do, you live up to those mistakes. You have to have the courage to step up and take the slings and arrows. If they don’t notice, you have to have the wisdom to point it out yourself and be honest.
Temperance comes in prior to you stumbling. If you have stumbled, made a mistake, screwed up, correct the error the best you can and bring your accumulated wisdom to the fore. If you are young or just starting out borrow the wisdom of those who have gone before you.
Even if you feel you’ve been wronged, perhaps the mistake has other owners, but if you follow the Stoics, remember that justice always comes to those who deserve it. Sometimes, actually almost always, it takes time and patience (a virtue not mentioned but very valuable).
Back to being on top. Ferriss’ quote refers to human performance. It actually has a place here in this essay. Being at the top means you have a responsibility too lead. This means you have to step out of mediocrity. If you have been chosen to lead, no more whining or pointing fingers. Step up your game. If you don’t know how to keep reading (and not just the stuff I write) and you will find your way.
See you at the top!