Leaders eat alone, too

A while ago, I found myself having my schedule filled to the brim with meetings.

This “meeting virus” caught me one step at a time: there were the mandatory recurring department and project meetings, the 1 on 1s with the team, and then every new request for work came via a meeting.

And then I had feedback meetings.

And then I had brainstorm sessions.

And kick-off’s, and reviews and what nots.

And then catch-up meetings with colleagues I didn’t talk to or worked with for a while and missed a conversation with them.

And then lunches were by default team or group lunches.

At some point, everything was a bit too “social” for my liking and after some difficult inner debates and struggles on whether deciding to go solo for lunch breaks would be “appropriate” for a manager, I decided to take back my lunch break and eat alone. And it felt really good, let me tell you that.

In the world of modern leadership, this is the point where we gasp and freak out.

“You do what??? You eat alone? But X and Y and Z leadership guru said that lunch is an opportunity to connect with peers and meet new colleagues and network and strategize… And Simon Sinek wrote a book literally called “Leaders eat last” — did you not get the memo about lunch breaks, Alexandra?”

(I hope you appreciate my highly dramatic personification of revolt and criticism 🙂)

I did get the memo about the lunch break

And

I think it’s a massive exaggeration, okay?

It is part of the same old narrative of leaders as superheroes — they are the ones who achieve everything and require nothing.

They’re innately a million times stronger and more resilient than others just because they have a “manager” or “director” or “chief” thing in their job title.

They have no emotions.

You can act however you want with them, it doesn’t break them.

No, they don’t need positive feedback. No, they don’t need praise nor encouragement.

They are “servant leaders.”

Heck, they don’t even need to eat at all or visit the bathroom or have a break — they’re just made of something else than the rest of the mortals.

Except they’re really not.

And acting like this superhero leader thing is true only perpetuates false expectations and paves the road to cohorts of burned out leaders.

Stop and read that last sentence one more time — does it not sound to you like that’s something we really would want to prevent and avoid?

There’s this famous saying that “it gets very lonely at the top.” And I have seen this to be true from the experiences of the people I know, work with, coach or consult for.

The leader I am coaching now told me about how he was promoted to leadership during a pandemic and was thrown head first into incredible challenges and he described the difficulty of his transition from an individual contributor to a leader with this statement:

“Before this promotion, the only problems I had to solve were my own tasks. Now, it feels like every problem of every team member is my problem, too. It’s overwhelming.”

I don’t think we talk about the burden of leadership enough.

I don’t think we write about it enough.

I don’t think team members think about the challenges of their leaders enough.

And I KNOW most leaders don’t even allow themselves the thought of acknowledging how difficult this role can be and to cut themselves some healthy chuncks of slack whenever they responsibly can.

Like eating that darn lunch alone every once in a while.

Leadership Coach & HR Leader