Lonely at the Top? Bearing the Weight of Leadership

  • Written by Harry A. Strausser III

strausser harryThere is a popular best-selling book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson. It is an appropriate sentiment expressed in this title for those that lead or manage others. If you are the boss, you are afforded freedoms and relaxed expectations over others. This is particularly true if you are an owner of your organization. Those in upper management often lament that their time is consumed by trivial issues, baby-sitting employees, putting out fires and ultimately dealing with compliance issues and frustrations. This small stuff is overwhelming and takes over our lives.

Everyone, by human nature, tends to gravitate to tasks and activities with which we are comfortable. This comfort zone can be like a drug. We continually want more of it because it is familiar, easy for us and often brings us enjoyment. Often these comfortable spots represent jobs that others could or should do thus allowing us to focus on the bigger, more significant issues in our organization. Carlson says, “You are what you practice most.” Instead of the manager or CEO we become the bookkeeper, the skip tracer, the client service representative, the counselor or the janitor!

As the boss, the top gun, the big cheese, it is commendable to be flexible. There is value in knowing a little about a lot having the ability to step in where necessary. As President of my agency, for years I had developed the title of “handy man.” Anything that went wrong in the building came to my desk. Leaky toilets, plugged toilets, florescent bulbs that blew out, ice on the front sidewalk, a file cabinet drawer that was stuck and a furnace that wouldn’t ignite. I handled it promptly, and actually enjoyed that dynamic… well, not the blocked toilets. If we allow ourselves we can get caught in a deep hole of comfort that becomes larger and larger the longer we immerse ourselves in it.

There is a popular old adage that says, “It’s lonely at the top.” We often feel the weight of the world, or at least our company, perpetually on our shoulders. What we need to do is plot out our firm’s next move. What is the most important significant change to orchestrate? What direction should we head? What is critical to the very survival of our organization? Are my biggest clients happy? Profitable? A fear emerges that, “we don’t know what we don’t know.” How do you acquire the knowledge you need to make the right decisions? When will I know that the decision I made was right? There can be lots of sleepless nights… even if you aren’t in Seattle.

Here are some ideas that might help put you in the right direction:

It Doesn’t Have to be Lonely at the Top

Good leaders surround themselves with a supportive and knowledgeable management team. Often these team members know much more about certain topics than the CEO. Hire smart people that might even be smarter than you.

Develop a Repertoire of Outside Subject Matter Experts

It is almost always true that someone has the answer to your question or problem. Start developing a robust list of people you meet, consultants, speakers, smart people you encounter and reach out to them when you have an issue. Often, connected people may not readily have your answer but they know where to go to get it.

Assess Often and Make Decisions Strategically

The world around us in the collections industry is changing rapidly. What was best or recommended yesterday may be the new taboo today. We must continually review our processes and be sure that we actually do what we profess we do. Engage in strategic thinking and planning with your team so you can easily and nimbly determine the best avenue for where your company is today.

Resolve Complaints and Maintain Your Reputation

At the very core of leadership in the accounts receivable management industry is the mandate that we maintain a highly responsive and sensitive culture surrounding consumer complaints. Every organization will encounter unhappy consumers. Timely and thoughtful resolution to those complaints is often a key component of organizational management. We learn from complaints and can make internal policy changes that ultimately create a consumer-friendly environment while maintaining the good reputation of your firm.


At any moment there is a long list of items that need attention in any office. We must continually assess, what is the best project for today. Be sure to regularly review your list of critical issues and move the most pressing and impactful items to the top. Stephen Covey said about prioritizing, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

Learn to Delegate

Get the comfortable but mundane tasks off of your desk and empower others to handle them. This can be very difficult to do for a micro manager but the time you will free up can be substantial. Get projects off your desk that others can do. Rid yourself of time-consuming report generation and analysis. Put others to work in a fashion that makes your job lighter so you can focus on the big stuff.

Your company or department will only be as successful as you allow it to be. To be the big cheese, you don’t have to be a whiz. You just have to recognize what the firm needs. The top gun doesn’t have to fire perfectly every time but has to aim at targets that matter when the bull’s-eye is hit. To be the boss, you have to recognize that every position in the firm is important and that the pathway to success is paved by a cohesive team with common direction. Titles don’t matter, but making the right decisions does. Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

Until next time, I’m in a collection office near you!

Harry A. Strausser III is the President of Interact Training and Development. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..