Loneliness of the long distance CEO

lonely CEO

It’s not only the long distance runner who faces loneliness and isolation.

Alan Sillitoe could have been writing about the loneliness of the modern day CEO or business owner when he penned his classic novel The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.

As our friend Ian Garrow, CEO of Amcla remarked when reflecting on how and why he had used Hamilton Rich.

“The role of CEO is a very solitary position. Often quoted as the toughest and loneliest job in business. Everyone in the organisation is quick to come to the CEO for advice, decisions and strategy but where can the CEO seek unbiased, informed, professional advice?”

Is Ian unusual in finding the CEO role a lonely one? Not according to the Harvard Business Review (HBR) and many others.

An article by Thomas J. Saporito in the HBR titled It’s Time to Acknowledge CEO Loneliness shows how Ian is not alone in his observations.

A key finding of that HBR article is that CEO’s should “Seek Support”. Mr Saporito notes that

“A reliable support system is crucial to CEO achievement, and CEOs should begin cultivating a group of trusted advisors from day one.”

According to Kristi Hedges in Forbes “any leader’s isolation has negative ramifications on others. And it’s not just CEOs who experience this kind of loneliness — it’s team managers, entrepreneurs, and community leaders too. In fact, anyone who finds themselves peerless can feel isolated. This isn’t good for decision-making, culture, or performance.

We believe that the best leaders have confidantes who can give it to them straight, speak truth to power, and keep them in the know. Stanford management professor Robert Sutton warned against the “toxic tandem” of leadership, where those in charge become more self-absorbed and less attuned to others’ perspectives precisely when they need outside information the most”.

Rod Macqueen, an existing client, understood the benefits of bringing in the right expertise and was an innovator in acquiring it as the most successful Wallaby coach ever. He brought in Steve Nance from the Broncos for fitness, John Muggleton for defence, and video analysis expertise from AFL. He understood the benefits of outside expertise at the Wallabies, but also in his business interests.

Returning to the view of Ian Garrow, CEO of Amcla, on the benefits of seeking advice.

“In my thirty years in the CEO chair, both in public and private companies, I have often sought out external advice. Some advisors have been very good whilst others have fallen into the category of “Consultants are a black hole into which to throw money”.

Hamilton Rich are different. This firm stands out in terms of the depth of experience offered combined with a level of commercial savvy and forward thinking rarely seen in other consultancies.

Michael Mahoney has been my advisor, mentor and sounding board for many years. He has worked closely with me and provided invaluable M&A advice on six successful acquisitions in addition to due diligence work on a number of other opportunities where his advice has ultimately been to walk away.

He is a champion for growth but has a very strong position on risk. I know firsthand that he sees his role as providing advice that, if implemented, minimises risk. This is the key reason that I have engaged Michael for a number of M&A negotiations.

Michael brings to the table a sound sense of perspective, insightful strategic planning skills and accounting and financial management experience at the highest level. His contribution to my company should be listed on our balance sheet as one of our most important assets”.

Do you need an independent sounding board? We would welcome an opportunity to discuss the challenges and opportunities you face.


Interesting articles on this topic include the following:

Harvard Business Review:

Forbes