It’s Lonely at the Top – 4 Ways to Help Employees Make the Step Change to Leader

Becoming a Leader

In a recent National Post article Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, where shown riding the subway with the caption “Prince Charles shows he’s just a regular bloke.”

Although the article didn’t convince me that the Prince is a regular bloke (I don’t think that regular blokes only take the subway once every 25 years!), it did (in a very strange way) highlight an issue when employees are promoted to leadership positions: they are no longer seen by their former co-workers as “regular blokes.”

The new leader must form new bonds and this, coupled with the pressure of trying to succeed in a new position, can be difficult for the newly promoted leader.

4 Ways to Help Employees Make the Step Change to Leader

Here are four ways that company’s can help to ensure their employees don’t feel lonely at the top.

1. Make Relationship-Building a Part of Leadership Development

Building relationships with co-workers is important. Of equal or maybe greater significance to a leader is their ability to form new relationships with those who report to them. The dynamics of this relationship can be difficult to grasp and therefore should be a part of the professional development of all future leaders.

2. Teach People Skills

It is common practice to select potential leaders within an organization partly based on character traits that would be beneficial to the company. Having a natural ability to relate with others should be one of these traits.

It is great to have a leader that has the technical knowledge to answer specific questions from their team however, the further up the ladder they progress, the less valuable these technical skills become. Great leaders surround themselves with people smarter then they are and find a way to get them to produce – these are people skills, not technical skills.

“Many corporate and governmental organizations assessments of leaders are exclusively focused on how well they handle the files in the inbox. But there is almost no assessment of their leadership skills.” ~ General Rick Hillier

3. Coach, Coach, Coach

Picking the right candidate for the job and providing all the formal training you can find will do little for how your top performer feels the first time they have to give their former lunch room buddy a poor mid-year review unless they receive continuous coaching.

Set your new leader up with someone in a different department that is one or two levels above their position on the org. chart. Of course the coach will need coaching on how to be a coach, but that is a part of the continuous professional development model you have implemented.

4. Team Build

Making friends isn’t easy. Making them with a new group of co-workers is even harder. Not only will frequent opportunities for team development help your newly promoted leader feel like they are part of the group, it will also help those that have been in management positions for a while get to know the new kid on the block.

If there is any resentment held by the more experienced leaders in your company towards the young up and comer, team building can be structured in such a way as to break down the walls of communication and help close the generational gap.

 “Under many existing development models, leaders learn to think about jobs in terms of what they control. This notion has led to excluding others and a lack of teamwork.” ~ Ram Charan

Keeping Real

No one is expecting that when an employee is promoted that they will have to completely drop all friendships they developed in their previous role. Nor are they expected to invite the management team over to watch football on Sunday afternoon (or hockey on Saturday night) with this said, their relationships will change: their new title dictates so.

To help ensure success for the employee and the company, it is important that relationship skills are recognized as a vital skill in their professional development and included in leadership development programs.

Have you experienced the feeling of isolation after being promoted? How much of a divide do you think is healthy between management and a company’s workforce? Do you think social media can help maintain a healthy balance between management and worker or will the line be too blurred? What kind of leadership training does your company offer? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Sandy Cooper

Sandy Cooper is a HSEQ Advisor in the offshore oil and gas industry
He works within a management system to help develop worker leadership skills
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter |  Web 

Image Sources:

L2L Contributing Author


  1. Dr. Scott Simmerman on May 24, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Just remember the words of John Le Carre:

    — “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world!”

    Related is the quote from Samuel Goldwin:

    — “When I want your opinion, I will give it to you.”

    What we need is more involvement and engagement. I try to blog about these and related ideas on my blog at

    Have FUN out there, too!


  2. Sandy Cooper on May 25, 2013 at 8:06 am

    Dr. Simmerman,

    Thank you for the comment – great quotes. I agree that high levels of involvement and engagement from all levels an organization will help support the development of its future leaders.


  3. Jim Lewis on May 26, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    Whoever coined the phrase, “It’s lonely at the top”, knew what they were saying . . . or did they?.

    • Sandy Cooper on May 28, 2013 at 8:05 pm


      Your article was a good read, thank you for sharing.