[We’re pleased to welcome author Dr. Jessy Zumaeta of the University of Chile and the London School of Economics. Dr. Zumaeta recently published an article in Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies entitled “Lonely at the Top: How Do Senior Leaders Navigate the Need to Belong?” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Zumaeta speaks about the motivations, challenges, and findings of this research:]
What motivated you to pursue this research?
I’m very interested in Leadership research and practice. Leaders may contribute to a great extent to organizations’ success or failure. They can make organizations and its people to thrive or, on the contrary, leaders may block employees’ and organizations’ progress. Due to the importance of their role, managers at the top echelons of organizations are usually highly pressured to deliver results. Among other things, I wanted to explore to what extent these pressures affected the person behind the professional mask.
What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research
Considering the abundant leadership literature, I wanted to look at it from a novel perspective, so I started to explore these kind of questions: How does it feel to be a senior leader? What are the main challenges? How do top managers experience their role? I did my research to shed light on leaders’ experiences in their role, going beyond the common view of the leader as a hero. My investigation focused on senior leaders as people with personal and social needs, as everyone else.
Were there any surprising findings?
In the interviews that I conducted, I could gather very personal accounts that may give the reader a good sense of what is like to perform a high-ranked leadership role in a corporate context on a daily basis. It was surprising to me the high degree of openness that the leaders showed during the interviews, which seem to contrast with the usual levels of authenticity that they are able to perform among other workers.
What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?
Organizations can be very difficult places, even for those that we all deem as super powerful. In consequence, I think we have to look at leadership phenomenon from different perspectives. It is a misleading message to think about top leaders as glamorous or highly desirable roles. Senior leaders have great responsibilities and setting them apart from the rest of people, it doesn’t seem to be helping organizations or leaders themselves. We need more workplaces centered on real people and their fundamental needs.