Managers’ solitude: how to build your support network

Despite living in a hyper-connected world, managers sometimes feel solitude. Today, I want to explore this topic close to my heart. Some of my friends have found themselves alone at critical times. It is for them and for all managers that I share a few tips.

Solitude is an emotion, everyone perceives it differently. I will first help you to determine in which circumstances you are not surrounded as you would need to be, beyond the emotions you might feel. Then, I will propose solutions to you to create these links.

Understand the problem of solitude

Managing consists of making decisions, guiding, directing, supporting and developing individuals. It’s teamwork. In the majority of situations, you are surrounded by your team.

Your role as guide is done in a group: you communicate, explain, deploy the expectations of the organization in your own team.

When a person needs a helping hand, because they lack technical skills, time or encounter a challenge, you support them, through coaching or concrete actions.

In some situations, you feel you are alone. For example, when the organization has to make difficult decisions, when there has been a significant incident with a customer, a partner, a supplier or a colleague. You can’t always think and talk to the person involved, you need to talk to someone else. You also sometimes question your decisions or the directions you take.

Looking back over the last few months, in what situations would a second opinion have been beneficial? In what situations have you reconsidered (before or after) one of your actions or decisions several times? Identifying the type of situation you are having trouble with will make it easier to ask for help when it happens again.

A natural support network, not always used

In large structures, you are surrounded by other managers or your own manager. It’s easier to get a second opinion.

However, the situation can be delicate and for various reasons you do not want to discuss it with your usual support network. You may feel alone, even when surrounded. In that case, I invite you to take a moment and think about what is on your mind. Are the fears you have founded? What can you do to fix it? The “what if” tool can help you see more clearly and decide to raise this difficult or risky subject with your fellow managers or your line manager.

But you don’t always have a natural support network. If you are in a small structure, or even a subsidiary, this network of fellow managers is not necessarily accessible.

How to surround yourself when the need arises?

Life partner

Not everyone wants to talk about work at home, but your better half knows you better than anyone. He or she knows your blind spots and weaknesses. They can support you in your thinking or reassure you if necessary.

However, this person has limits, because you do not want to pollute your romantic relationship with professional tensions. Moreover, the competence of this person may be insufficient for strategic decisions or when the time comes to initiate disciplinary procedures.

Colleague more “turned on” than the others

When it comes to strategy or decisions affecting the organization of work, projects, the mission of the organization, you can perhaps count on someone on your team. The one who has a different background from the others, who has a more strategic vision, who may already have a role (official or not) as a strategic advisor. She or he helps you to test the waters, try new ideas, brings back to you the reality that you may have forgotten or sublimated.

After all, your success as a manager depends on your ability to surround yourself with the right people. This support, punctual or continuous, is also a means of developing this person towards management or strategic advisory roles.

However, be careful about the level of information you share. Beyond the confidence you have in them, you don’t want to isolate them from the rest of their colleagues. If they know too much, or have sensitive information, they might feel bad about their colleagues. This is why I advise you to keep this right arm for topics concerning the organization rather than individuals.

A person outside the organization

You can occasionally call on an expert, your mentor or a coach.

The advantage of external expertise is twofold. On the one hand, you have access to cutting-edge expertise in the particular area in which you need help (HR, strategy, technical), on the other hand this external person has no prejudices or links or conflicts of interest with the situation. She will judge the facts and give you a neutral and professional opinion on the matter.

Your mentor is someone you trust, with whom you have a long-term relationship. Often older than you, but not always, your mentor knows your way of thinking and your weak points. This person can share with you similar situations they have experienced and how they have dealt with them.

Finally, coaching is between the two in duration. This approach aims to work on your weaknesses and your questions. Whether related to your career or your professional relationships, the relationship lasts a few weeks to a few months. You come out stronger, with tools, techniques or a plan to solve your problems in the future.

Group of managers

Finally, the last option is to participate in a co-development group between managers. You are not alone in feeling lonely. There are groups of managers in several regions and on several themes or formulas. In addition, some are now also virtual. Meetings are usually held once a month. You discuss your issues in different formats. Each structure has its own way of working. Some have pre-established themes, others work according to individual needs. It’s up to you to see what suits you, and why not, to create your tailor-made support group!

Being a manager is difficult. You need to build a strong support network. You will gain lots out of it. Either directly, by having a second opinion on a situation, or indirectly2, by helping others. Their current problems could look like your future ones…