Joining a new company in a leadership role
Spill's qualified therapists answer real questions from employees struggling with loneliness.
I joined the company a few months ago and am part of the leadership team. Overall, I don't feel included nor well regarded and am struggling to find my place. I also don't want their opinion of me to mean that much to me as it's just work and these are not my friends so I don't want to fall into the 'validation' pitfall but can't help feeling lonely. What can I do?
I wonder if your desire to make sure you are not fixated on your colleagues opinion of you (which is very sensible) is partly creating the disconnect that is leaving you feeling lonely and like a bit of an outsider.
It sounds as if, bruised at feeling unwelcomed by your new colleagues, you have begun to close yourself off, meaning that the likelihood of turning the situation around becomes more distant.
There might be any number of reasons that you have taken a while to settle in and it isn’t necessarily because you are not well regarded.
Coming into a team that is already formed is really challenging. By telling yourself that you want it to matter less whether they accept you or not you risk making it worse.
Could you re approach the situation with a more open mind? Let’s assume that there is no negative feeling but simply a lack of positive connection, what could you do about that?
You could try asking some questions to show interest in the work areas of some of your colleagues, or perhaps offer your support or help with something they are working on.
Similarly you could ask for opinions or assistance with something in your area, or perhaps try and schedule some specific time to get to know your colleagues better and help them get to know the real you.
It is always vulnerability that connects people so consider saying to one or more of your colleagues that you’d like to have the opportunity to go for a coffee to get to know one another better, that you’ve found it hard sometimes to feel a part of the team and that you’d really like to do something about it.
Mostly, when we reach out to people and ask them to help us they will respond. I suspect you will find this to be true with your new colleagues.
In the highly unlikely event that they don’t respond positively you will at least know that you are right not to rely on their validation because the approval of colleagues like that really wouldn't mean very much of value.
Choose to connect
I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling lonely. This feeling doesn’t sound very nice but listen to it because it’s possibly showing you something that you’re in need of.
I’m wondering if you are in need of:
- Stronger connections: feeling excluded and lacking a sense of belonging
- More respect: feeling not good enough and a perceived lack of regard
Let’s look at how you could work towards these.
Re. stronger connections and sense of belonging, the first part of this is to decide you’re going to build connection. The interesting part of your question is the latter part which shows a conflict with this - I sense a push/pull going on. I hear you don’t want or need validation, but why can’t they be friends and is it not natural to want to be thought of well at work? You can’t ask for connection and belonging if you’re purposefully sitting outside of the group. This mindset will play out in your behaviours and attitude and you may come across as aloof or disconnected, and the team will feel this and feed off of it so your disconnection will then become self fulfilling. Choose to connect - ask questions of your team, get to know them, attend social events, remind yourself you are just a bunch of humans trying to get on. You say you haven’t found your place and this can mess with our sense of belonging for sure. It’s still quite early in the role so allow yourself time to land and offer yourself some compassion at this time. It may take longer than you’re giving it. Maybe these people just aren’t your tribe, and that's OK, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be an effective professional team and connect with them.
Re. building respect and regard, again I would invite you to explore what vibes you are giving off. Do you feel confident in your role? If not, what do you need to help you (training, communication, guidance)? None of us have solid steel confidence, it’s a fragile beast, but we can show people we’re trying our best and we’re open to ideas and changes and self-improvement. It’s great role modelling as a leader, too, to show that you are open to growth.
I sense the loneliness is some kind of self-protection. It’s common to unconsciously stay a little apart from others due to our fear (of rejection or shame), e.g. “If I get close to people, they may not like me, or find out I’m not good enough”. It’s time to get vulnerable; to take a risk and step forward a little.
Challenge negative thoughts
You are in a new leadership role and feeling left out and out of place. You care about the opinion of the people you work with but don’t want to make it everything. Underneath there is a sense of loneliness.
Below are thoughts and suggestions that may help you.
It is always hard joining a well-established team. Everyone already knows each other, and they have closer relationships. It’s normal that it will take time to adjust, and I think a period of feeling like you do not fit is inevitable.
We are often told we should not care what others think of us and to an extent this is helpful and true but being the social creatures that we are of course we do care in many ways! Accept your needs for connection and a level of validation as natural.
Reach out to other team members. You can do this by asking for advice or information or suggesting a friendly lunch. Other team members may be busy or lack awareness. Also, when we feel anxious, we can unconsciously put out ‘stay away from me’ vibes. Make it clear that you want to connect and are open to more interaction.
Manage any anxiety by challenging negative thoughts. For example, ‘I am not well-regarded’ might become ‘People do not know me yet and so might not know how best to interact with me.’
Use relaxation strategies to manage anxiety such as exercise, deep-breathing exercises, talking to friends and family and engaging in hobbies and interests outside of work where you do get a sense of recognition and validation.
Have patience. Just because you feel lonely now it does not mean this is how it always will be. I can definitely remember jobs where I was lonely at first but later very much enjoyed work connections.
Speak to a therapist if things do not get easier. They can help you to explore what is going on.