Making Leadership Less Lonely
- by Juhi Heda
In May, I shared a personal revelation about leadership—that it can be very lonely. I promised to follow up with ideas on how one can feel more connected in the workplace. After a couple of months of observation and experimentation, I’m ready to share a working hypothesis: Progress against this challenge requires being more intentional with your time and greater reflection on your personal story.
Below, I’ve articulated opportunities to do just that, beginning with simple, tactical suggestions and ending with more philosophical and introspective opportunities to help you develop a stronger sense of community:
Let’s take it outside.
It’s incredible how much a walk around the neighborhood can make a work-focused interaction feel less like another mundane meeting and more like an interesting conversation. Stepping outside of your regular environment and getting some fresh air can be really energizing, often resulting in increased creativity, engagement and even openness amongst colleagues.
A walk may not always be feasible, but a small investment in finding a novel or more comfortable space will go a long way to decreasing meeting fatigue, increasing productivity and creating shared experiences.
Don’t waste your food.
In our personal lives we think about how to make the best of each precious meal. Getting to know someone new, spending time with an old friend, celebrating something or someone—every week I look forward to weekend festivities and they almost always revolve around food and drink! At work, however, I’m usually so busy that meals are an afterthought, something I squeeze in during a call or meeting because I need sustenance for the rest of the day. This is neither satisfying, nor energizing.
Recently I’ve been blocking 30 minutes on my calendar for lunch every day and I’ve been trying to think ahead about how I want to use my 30 minutes. Sometimes it’s to get to know a new team member, sometimes it’s to catch up with someone from my training class, sometimes it’s even just to take care of a personal phone call or errand. Either way, I feel far more productive, connected and happy, and forcing this break usually allows me to accomplish more in the afternoon because my brain has taken a breather.
When people used to ask me where I lived last year, I’d often say, “United flight xxx, seat 22A.” Jokes aside, if your world is anything like mine, the concept of being “based” in an office is misleading. Between work (and personal) travel, a night off or a free weekend is a rare treat. Drinks with colleagues on a Thursday night sounds fun, but when you haven’t seen your significant other or friends all week, it’s hard to justify another night away.
I’ve observed that when work-related social events are inclusive of significant others or friends, one plus one equals three. When your colleagues get to know your family and friends and vice versa, all become more vested in one another. This leads to more flexibility and understanding inside and outside of the workplace.
Take a page from my grandma.
Email—the joy and bane of our existence. Email is incredibly efficient for certain types of communication. In the time it takes to go back and forth on certain email threads, however, you would have been better off calling the person, or better yet, walking over to his or her desk. Aside from the potential efficiency gain, it also creates a much stronger connection—only about 15 percent of communication is what we say—the rest is how we say it and our body language. You’re less likely to be misunderstood and more likely to learn more about your colleague’s day through a phone call. Maybe you’ll learn about something else he’s working on, or maybe you’ll just get to hear about how excited he is for the concert he’s going to that evening.
Either way, this increased feeling of connection is a wonderful byproduct. I’ve been trying to spend five seconds up front before blasting off another email to decide if a call or face-to-face chat might be a better avenue, and it’s been amazing how often I’ve finally been able to put a face to a name, or how many more people I feel comfortable waving to when I walk around the office floor.
Be the Batman to their Robin, the Bonnie to their Clyde.
You’ve probably heard people refer to a colleague as a “work husband” or “work wife.” While some people are sensitive to potential implications of these terms, I do think seeking out and investing in really strong partnerships in the workplace is critical—someone who will always set aside time to listen to you rant, brainstorm a solution, hear you out when you have a crazy idea, grab a coffee when you need a break, and even put you in your place when it’s necessary (come on, we’ve all been there). They will be your rocks when times are tough, and more importantly they will make coming to work every day even more fun!
Set your personal bar as high as your work bar.
At nearly every organization, there is some element of planning and goal setting. At Palantir, this takes the form of quarterly OKRs (objectives & key results). At the beginning of this year I realized that if this proves to be so effective for goals at work, why not give it a shot for personal goals too? I created annual and Q1 OKRs for myself.
One key element is sharing these goals with others; if you’re bold, maybe you’ll even share your personal goals with colleagues. My peers at work will often check in on how I’m tracking or offer to join me in accomplishing a goal, a fitness target or a side project, for example. It’s just another way to make time for your priorities outside of work, but to do so in a way that is inclusive of your community at work.
Do the right thing.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on what sorts of productive activities I enjoy outside of work. If you’re doing the right thing at work—and what I mean by this is that you’re in a role that allows you to take advantage of your talents and interests—then what you’re doing outside of work might serve to enhance those same skills. For example, as I’ve made more time in my life for my writing, it’s strengthened my interest in communications, and I’ve found some unique and impactful opportunities to get involved with the internal development team at Palantir. It’s also helped me articulate what I loved about my client-facing role—the opportunity to tell the story of our partnership and to bring clients along on a journey that I believe will be deeply transformational for their organization.
I also love the execution component of a complex project, and I realized recently that part of what draws me to fitness classes is the continuous opportunity to focus on just that—perfect execution of something difficult. As I’ve started drawing these parallels, I’ve felt more inspired and connected inside and outside of work. I’ve started to internalize a more unified, focused version of myself.
So there you have it. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a silver bullet for solitude, but I hope that at least a few of these ideas resonate. Let me know below in the comments section about your own ways to feel less lonely in the workplace.