TL;DR

What: Look to peers when it gets lonely

Lonely at the Top: The Importance of Peer Groups to Executives

Leadership doesn't have to be lonely. Finding a group of like-minded people can help emotionally and also professionally.

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A study carried out by Harvard Business Review found that half of chief executive officers (CEOs) expressed feelings of loneliness, and 61% thought the issue hindered their performance at work. The problem is particularly acute in Singapore due to the lack of peers that senior executives have in the region.

It may sound like a cliché to say it’s lonely at the top, but in the case of senior executives, it appears to be true.

A study carried out by Harvard Business Review found that half of chief executive officers (CEOs) expressed feelings of loneliness, and 61% thought the issue hindered their performance at work. The problem is particularly acute in Singapore due to the lack of peers that senior executives have in the region.

As executives grapple with an increasingly diverse set of challenges, ranging from rising protectionism to the threats and opportunities created by digitisation, many find themselves with limited options on who they can turn to for advice. While CEOs and country directors in Europe typically have other people at their level in different countries across the continent who they can consult for advice, a significant proportion of people at a high level in Asia are regional directors, meaning they do not have this option.

Executives’ loneliness in Singapore is further compounded by the fact that they are often reporting to head offices in Europe or the US, meaning they have to work late to ensure there is an overlap in the two locations’ working days. These long hours leave little time for developing a strong network, which could go some way towards alleviating feelings of isolation.

If the situation only impacted executives as individuals, it may be tempting to ignore it, but there is growing evidence that being part of an effective professional network has a significant positive impact on the businesses they head up, particularly if they are in a growth phase or are expanding into new markets.

Unsurprisingly, the issue of executive loneliness has spawned a range of industries, with companies offering everything from executive coaching and mentoring services to help executives feel more supported, to charging SG$1,500 an hour to set up phone calls with experts when executives need specialist advice.

But these services are ripe for disruption, as there is really no substitute for sitting in a room and talking to trusted peers who share the same challenges as you.

What Can Singaporean Executives Do?

Members can talk about and receive advice on issues ranging from whether they should accept a new job offer to how transfer pricing rules may impact their company when it opens a new office in Vietnam.

Join an executive network

Find online and offline groups with members between 30 to 35 people (any less and it will not have enough reach, any more and it will be too big to make a difference) who are at the same level of leadership. There are at least nine different peer groups in Singapore, with ones for HR leaders, regional supply chain heads, regional marketing directors and regional finance heads to name a few.

Get together

As everyone is busy, such groups should plan to meet four to five times a year. Ideally, each meeting should be chaired by a professional facilitator to ensure the discussion stays on track, as the pressures on executives’ time mean the sessions need to be productive.

Talk

Members can talk about and receive advice on issues ranging from whether they should accept a new job offer to how transfer pricing rules may impact their company when it opens a new office in Vietnam.

Support network

Haider Manasawala, director and general manager finance and planning, Asia Pacific region at Chevron Oronite, has experienced first-hand the value of executive networks.

“This is a good forum for exchanging thoughts and seeking reciprocal help in dealing with common challenges and opportunities. Its wide network of accomplished professionals acts as a valuable resource and a sounding board to bounce ideas off to gain fresh insights into problems and solutions that may not have been readily apparent,” he says.

Birds of a feather flock together – only executives can truly understand the stress of being at the top of the corporate ladder. With a support network of like-minded people, executives can receive dozens of answers to their burning questions.

Despite their busy schedules, executives have shown time and time again their willingness to assist their peers. It does not have to be lonely at the top.

Featured image by Tim Bogdanov on Unsplash


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I'm the Managing Director of Executive’s Global Network (EGN). Part of an international network of senior level relationships, I'm fortunate to constantly have exclusive opportunities to strengthen my professional network and develop my personal leadership skills. I've also been entrusted to serve as the Vice Chairman of the Nordic Chamber of Commerce in Ho Chi Minh City and the Vice Chairman of the Direct Selling Committee Vietnam.
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