The Company Officer: The Loneliness of Leadership

May 8, 2023
Dr. Brett Ellis explains how staying connected, constant and curious allows company officers to be the leader who their crew needs.

Leadership is lonely. Leadership is difficult. Leadership is uncomfortable. However, leadership is necessary, because it’s one of the toughest jobs that you ever will love.

If you read my column regularly, you know that I try to provide tangible perspective on leadership philosophies and theories so as to apply that perspective to company officers and the people who those officers are entrusted to lead. This edition of my column can sound a bit depressing at first, but please stick with me. After all, leaders boldly press on when others bow out, and resilience, vulnerability, and courage help to carry leaders through the easiest and most difficult of times.

So, how do company officers stay “in love” with the job and the role of leader when it doesn’t feel as though the job loves them as much?

Rest assured, the road of leadership never gets easier. Given that, how do leaders handle “difficult” better as they pursue a life of leadership?

Leaders work hard to fall in love and to stay in love by understanding the love languages in relation to leadership, because love—leadership love—is a choice.

Leadership needs company

If we agree that leadership is difficult, we surely can agree that leadership will bring loneliness at times. However, as a result of that, leaders will be able to empathize with others.

Loneliness can be described in numerous fashions, but for this column, loneliness is a place where we might feel disconnected or misunderstood and/or even experience self-doubt for decision or indecision. When the “leadership feels” are missing, what should leaders do? To whom do leaders turn when they are the type of person who is expected to have it all together? The answers actually are easier than one might believe.

Leaders need their own support system that affords them to be who they are regardless of where they are. When that day, decision or relationship is affected because of the role of leadership, leaders need their

No. 1 go-to person to call to be their ear, their accountability partner and/or their voice that keeps them grounded in a place of resilient leadership.

Like-minded leaders who are passionate about influence, learning and being decisive can empathize with others on the most difficult of days. In other words, an island of one becomes an island of a few. Remember, as the tides rise, so do the boats. Loneliness needs company to feel connected.

For the love of leadership

One of the aha moments that I experienced in multiple leadership roles is just how lonely it can be to be different, to almost care too much to a fault, to hunger for people to love how I love, particularly through the opportunities that authentic leadership in action provides. That said, from a realistic perspective, it’s unfair for me to expect such things.

I learned years ago that love is a choice and that the most important person in one’s life simply can love differently, which doesn’t translate to loving you less. It takes time, commitment, transparency, grace and an intentional road trip to “trustville” to get to a place that’s critical for relational growth. If “trustville” is the ultimate destination for people, then how in the role of a leader is trust built?

If we are “in love” with the idea of trust but not sure how to stay in love, what helps us choose leadership love instead of living in fear?

Courage and vulnerability are connected, as are peanut butter and jelly, peas and carrots, selflessness and sacrifice, and forward movement and necessary change. The bottom line is that company officers must choose to be uncomfortable, and they do this by looking inward, to affect the forward movement of the people who look to them to be their leader.

The love languages

In rapid fire, the love languages help us to learn how to love those who are around us based on what their needs are. This puts us in the position to speak the language that best makes them feel whole.

As an adaptive leader, it’s important to recognize how your people need to be loved, but first, it’s imperative that you love yourself as a leader, so you can be the person who others depend on.

One is right to wonder how do these areas feed the need of leadership, particularly when leadership is lonely, difficult, uncomfortable and necessary?

Words of affirmation are rooted in the expression of affection through spoken words, praise and/or appreciation. Make no mistake, quality time desires undivided attention through active listening.

Physical touch focuses on affection, and acts of service zero in on the little things that can be done out of kindness.

Finally, receiving gifts is more about the effort and thoughtfulness behind the gift than often the gift itself.

A life of leadership is a pursuit of forward movement when there is the most resistance, therefore relying on the love languages in the leadership relationship between yourself and, well, yourself.

Words of affirmation can be funneled through leadership learning, podcasts, conversations and an appreciation that there are numerous styles of leadership, yet each person has a skill set that often is underutilized. Be affirmed that if you call yourself a leader, you are influential, decisive, competent, compassionate and accountable, which all support attributes of the company officer position.

If quality time desires undivided attention with active listening, then I encourage leaders to self-reflect on their leadership style, on where they are strong and on challenge areas. Spend time looking inward, outward, upward and forward as a leader.

Physical touch centers on affection, and the leadership connection elevates not only how company officers touch the lives of others through servant leadership but also how those officers affect other lives to be better, do better and lead better, particularly when those people are lonely.

Subtle reminders of one’s effect help when the tides rise and the laborious sacrifice that leadership entails is most evident.

Finally, the gift of leadership is one for which value can’t be placed, because leaders never truly know the effect that they have on other people. What leaders can recognize is how they affect others personally and professionally. By re-gifting servant leadership, leaders can fall back in love with leadership over and over again.


Be the leader who you need, not the one who you hoped for. The road to “trustville” always will be full of challenges, because relationships are dynamic and difficult.

How leaders choose to love the job when the job doesn’t love them as much or even loves differently is an opportunity for the leader to handle the “difficult” well.

Rely on the love languages to stay connected, constant and curious, even in the most difficult of places, because you don’t know until you know how leadership is one of the toughest jobs that you ever will choose to love.

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