Woman seated alone on a dock.
Innovation Stories

Loneliness in Leadership

Building connections with other leaders
by Faith+Lead | September 2, 2021

By Aleah Nishizaki

As leaders it is common to experience loneliness. We spend our energy pouring out: vision casting, mentoring, developing partnerships, and caring for those with whom we are in community with. A large majority of our time can be spent with people in contexts where we are in a position of making decisions, creating the agenda, and answering the big questions like “where are we headed.” 

Loneliness in leadership is not a new concept; in fact, there are many resources on the subject. Articles, books, and blogs give advice on how to lead an organization well by being prepared to be “lonely at the top.” Being a leader in ministry—often focusing on creating spaces of belonging and being known—does not make us immune to the loneliness of leadership.

In the spring of 2020 I was already feeling the weightiness of leading in a new ministry context. I was relatively new in my city and I had been giving significant energy to developing relationships, launching a new ministry initiative, and balancing being a full-time student. As maybe you experienced too, adding a global pandemic to the mix significantly exposed and exaggerated my feelings of loneliness. The leadership question of “where are we headed?” felt impossible to answer during the days and weeks when everything felt (and if I am honest still feels) unknown.

By the end of 2020 I was experiencing emotional burnout. I was tired, apathetic, and could feel my capacity shrinking due to undealt with grief. I started a “loss list” to record the numerous losses I felt disappointed by. My graduation was canceled; ministry dreams that were moving forward were abruptly put on hold. I couldn’t travel to attend my brother’s wedding; I said a heart-wrenching goodbye to my grandmother over Facetime instead of at her bedside. The losses of the year filled multiple pages of my journal, and there didn’t seem to be an end to the list in sight.

A Cohort

When I was approached with the invitation to join the Seeds Project Fellowship I felt like I was being given a timely gift. The idea of joining a cohort of other leaders in unique contexts felt like something I had longed for but didn’t know how or where to look for. After the excitement settled, I began to feel nervousness enter my head. What do I have to contribute to this group when I am already feeling empty? Would this be another area of life where I am expected to pour out when what I really need is to be poured into?

Those nervous thoughts and concerns did not stay around for long. During our first virtual meeting together there was almost a felt communal exhale when the Seeds staff said to our group, “You are not here to perform. You are not here to have one more thing on your list of responsibilities. You are here to be poured into. We are here to serve you.” It was as if the nervous script running through my head was visible to the Seeds staff, and they knew exactly what to say to put my mind at ease.

Over the past eight months I have experienced a depth in relationships with other leaders like I have never known before thanks to the Seeds Project. Our cohort fellows have much in common and nothing in common all at the same time. We are all innovative leaders in spaces where there is no handbook to follow. Our communities look vastly different from each other, yet there is a bond we fellows share due to working in out-of-the-box initiatives.

I recently shared with my cohort the challenges I felt in regards to stalled movement in ministry due to COVID-19. With humility I posed the question to the group that I have been asked, and asked myself repeatedly, “Where do we go from here, and how do we restart post-pandemic?” During this conversation one Seeds staff member asked, “How do you feel about this challenge?” My answer was honest and simple, “I feel lonely.” What I then saw from my Zoom screen was fifteen or so little boxes with nodding heads and empathetic eyes. There was a shared understanding of the loneliness of grief and the loneliness we can feel in spaces of leadership. My friends and co-laborers understood my loss and joined me in grief. This has been a uniquely special gift I have received thanks to the Seeds Project Fellowship.

If you too are looking for a space to commune with other leaders, processing together journeys of leadership in ministry, I would highly recommend applying for the Seeds Project Fellowship Cohort 2022.

About the Author
Aleah Nishizaki works in and with the Deaf community in Washington, DC and around the world. She has a degree in Deaf Studies from Gallaudet University and is passionate about addressing the barriers and obstacles marginalized peoples experience, especially with regard to accessibility within the church. Aleah has been married to her husband for eleven years and they have a beloved dog named Bella.

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