How to Keep Self-Developing as a Leader Even When It Gets Lonely

Beatriz Boavida
Mar 07, 2024
6 min read

Being a CEO is the best job I’ve ever had.

I think it’s one of the best jobs in the world - when it’s good.

But it’s also the loneliest job I’ve ever had. Peter Engelbrecht

There is no way to turn a blind eye to this. The higher your position on the company hierarchy, the lonelier you will feel.

When you are in an entry-level job, you always have someone to push you to help you improve – most of the time, that support will come directly from your manager. When you are a manager, your superior may play that role, and even some peers. But when you reach that CEO level, who can you turn to for guidance and support? 

Do you turn inwards and methodically invest in yourself? Or do you turn to someone else for guidance? Who will help you set goals, navigate uncertainty, and recognize and overcome your shortcomings?

In this article, we will share with you Peter Engelbrecht’s – co-founder of Firmafon and CEO coach – formula to help you succeed as a leader, especially if you are a CEO, and how you can find the best support for that journey.

Meet the leader: Peter Engelbrecht

I think I was a person very very interested in products and technology. I became then a person very very interested in management, and then I ended up as a person being very interested in the psychology of leadership and the psychology of working together and self-development. So that's sort of the three layers of me still. Peter Engelbrecht

After working for large tech companies - like Intel, co-founding and being the CEO of Firmafon for a decade, and founding other software ideas, Peter Engelbrecht decided to settle on coaching other CEOs.

By that time, he already had the passion for self-development. And his experience as CEO provided him with the tools on how to advise, support, and empower the one that has one of the loneliest jobs: Being CEO.

You need someone unbiased in your corner

When you’re leading, you’re going to deal with difficult people's problems. If it was just easy there was no need for you as a leader.” Hans-Kristian Bjerregaard, Workjoy CEO

Just as in any other stage of your career, you grow because of determination and consistency, and because you receive the right support from someone around you. 

When you reach the CEO level, your situation changes – you cannot just talk about your problem or doubts to your board (which usually are your investors). You cannot do it with your employees either, they have their own career as a priority. You can think about a friend or your spouse or some family member, but most likely they will not have enough understanding of the problem to actually help you efficiently. So, you need to find someone who is unbiased and skillful enough to support you.

Peter Engelbrecht advises anyone in this position to follow two paths:

Another important aspect to consider is that self-development can be seen as a muscle. If you push it too hard, it will get tired. So, it is ok to have periods where you feel you can push it, and you go to peer group sessions and go deep in your CEO coaching sessions. There may be other times when you pause the coaching sessions when you feel you need to take things a bit slow.

How to find great peer groups

If there is any secret to finding a great peer group, it is this:

To find a great peer group you’ve got to expose yourself to meeting people. Peter Engelbrecht

As obvious as it sounds, it is crucial for a CEO to network. On a talk with someone at an event, you may decide to form a peer group, as Peter did, or you may be added to one – either way, it is vital for you to go out there and meet other industry people.

Expose yourself to interesting people over time. Bring them your challenge – as Workjoy’s CEO, Hans-Kristian Bjerregaard puts it, it can be as simple as “Hey, I know you have solved this problem. Do you want to spend an hour over a cup of coffee?

You can even consider making the first contact via social media (e.g. LinkedIn, X).

Be willing to use yourself

When a peer group has been recently formed, it is really common for the first few interactions to be a display of conquers and flaunting.

According to Peter, that is something natural, but the real magic begins when someone has the courage to come forward and say “I have this problem. I just do not know how to handle it. I'm just over my head here. I have not slept the last couple of nights.

This vulnerable act is what gets the group to change its dynamic and instead of simply flaunting, embrace the support role and give useful advice. This is why Peter advocates that you should be willing to use yourself and show your weakness.

For you to feel comfortable talking about your worries and troubles at peer group sessions, you can also consider doing coaching before following the peer group path to self-development. This will allow you to practise speaking with vulnerability with someone else, in this case, your coach, in a safe environment, before bringing up those matters at a peer group session and feeling all the discomfort of the first time in front of a group of people.

How to find an exceptional coach

Have you got a good coach?

Chances are someone has a great coach and your opportunity to have their reference lies in you asking people about it. Keep in mind that most coaches are found via word of mouth. So, again you need to connect with others.

Also, any great coach will offer you a free first session. Use this to your advantage. 

  1. Bring them your toughest problem.

  2. See how they propose to help, how you progress during the session, and how you worked together.

  3. Take the time to listen and ask questions. 

  4. Once the session is over, make your decision: To find a different coach or to continue the work with that person.

Remember just as finding a great peer group requires proactivity, so does finding a good coach that will be a great match for you. Commit to doing this work and get yourself out there. At the end of the day, you will be one step closer to boosting your self-development.

Key takeaways

CEOs need to find unbiased people who will help them in their self-development journey, as it is a lonely one. Any good leader is a leader who is constantly looking to improve. According to Peter Engelbrecht, there are two paths ways you can take and you should take both:

Make your self-development a priority. Go out there and use yourself! 😉

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