I was meeting with a colleague recently and they asked the question, “What’s the hardest part of your job?” My response was, “It’s lonely at the top.” They looked at me quizzically, so I had to explain. We’ve all heard that phrase, right? It’s lonely at the top! Seems to be self-explanatory. I always thought I knew what it meant until I started advancing the career ladder.

In my experience, it’s not that colleagues don’t want to have coffee, lunch or an adult beverage with someone that’s advanced their career — or the boss. But it dawned on me over time that I was hearing a lot about what was going on within the company, but most of it was superficial. And I’m not talking about gossip. No longer was I hearing about this problem or that failure. I was hearing about how great things were going, how we won this customer, how we saved money doing this, how we progressed an initiative.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all great things and I am not interested in hearing dirt on employees. But I haven’t worked at a company yet that didn’t have issues (opportunities) that needed to be resolved. I have always looked at my job as a manager to be the bulldozer that helps remove obstacles and allows employees to excel.

Over the years I’ve had to figure out ways to ensure I was getting information in order to make informed decisions. I also believe they help build strong relationships and give people insight into how you lead. So here are some suggestions to get to the gold (information):

  • Schedule one-on-one meetings, not just with your direct reports, but with key people within the organization. I like to meet with co-workers at all different levels within the company. This gives me a better understanding on all types of things such as how well the messaging is coming down from management, company morale, issues affecting different people, etc. It’s really a tremendous source of data that can be used to better myself, the management team and ultimately the company.
  • Skip-level lunches are another great way to hear the facts. I find that people loosen up outside the office and there is something primal about breaking bread that allows for a better interaction. And who doesn’t like to eat?
  • Create an internal blog that allows for anonymous questions and answers. This worked particularly well when I worked for an international company where I didn’t get to see everyone globally often. It allowed everyone and anyone to post questions that they may or may not feel appropriate or comfortable asking in a group environment. This was not difficult to do and provided tremendous value to me, the management team and ultimately, the employees.
  • I’m confident there are many other ways to attack the key premise here, but these are some ways I’ve found to be a better leader. And I enjoy the interaction with our employees, so it’s a win-win. I look forward to getting your feedback on what you do to learn more about the heartbeat of your company.