How leaders can avoid lone wolf syndrome

May 15, 2024

There’s an old adage that, “Nobody is an island unto themselves.” I had to learn this lesson many years ago as MBS Accountancy began to grow. In fact, it was after learning this lesson that I joined an entrepreneur support group where we regularly discuss business issues, hold ourselves accountable to the goals we’ve shared with one another, and share perspectives on various trends and happenings in business. 

I was recently reminded of this truth when I read about the lone wolf personality type. The lone wolf personality is commonly found in leaders. But, there are many reasons why the lone wolf syndrome stunts the effectiveness and success of a leader. For this reason, I’ve decided to refer to the lone wolf personality as the lone wolf syndrome, especially when discussing leadership.

What is the lone wolf syndrome?

The lone wolf personality is characterized by an independent, self-sufficient nature and a preference for solitude and introspection. People with this personality type tend to enjoy solitary activities and often have a very low need for socialization. 

Specific traits of the lone wolf personality include:

  • Self-sufficiency
  • Skepticism
  • Independence
  • Privacy
  • Internal motivation

The myth about lone wolves

We’re often told that lone wolves are wild, dominant, and successful on their own. But this is a mistaken belief. Wolves are naturally pack animals.  They thrive as a group, caring for one another within an innately sensed hierarchy. In the wild, a lone wolf is either:

  •  An alpha wolf who was rejected by his pack or lost to a younger rival who took his place as the pack leader.
  • A rival pack leader who lost when challenging its pack leader and was consequently rejected by the pack. 

Neither scenario fits the fanciful concept we have about being a lone wolf and forging your own way in life. The fact is, we can only go so far on our own. Eventually, we all need the help of others to overcome our own deficiencies, flaws, and blind spots. 

Why is the lone wolf syndrome disastrous for leaders?

While the self-reliant nature of the lone wolf personality may seem beneficial for a leader at first, it can quickly become detrimental. Lone wolf leaders can isolate themselves from their team, become overly critical, and lose sight of the bigger picture. 

  1. Lack of collaboration: Leaders who exhibit the lone wolf personality may have a tendency to work alone and not collaborate with their team members. 
  2. Difficulty building relationships: Not investing in strong relationships with their team makes it difficult if not impossible for lone wolf leaders to gain support and trust from their team members.
  3. Inability to delegate: Being overly reliant on themselves, lone wolf leaders struggle to delegate tasks to their team and eventually become burned out as they try to take on too much work themselves. This self-reliance also cause leaders to neglect to provide development and growth opportunities for team members.
  4. Ineffective decision-making: Working alone, while necessary at times, can often mean less access to all the necessary information and perspectives needed to make the best decision. As the old adage goes, “Nobody knows everything.”
  5. Lack of support: Because lone wolf leaders work alone and rarely build relationships with others, they struggle to find support and guidance from others. The lack of mentorship, coaching, and feedback from others mean leaders are stunted in their professional and personal growth.

Does avoiding the lone wolf syndrome mean you cannot lead as an introvert?

While the downsides of the lone wolf personality can make it seem like introverts cannot be effective leaders, this is not true. In fact, introverts can be excellent leaders and can leverage the strengths of their introversion to be successful in their roles without becoming a lone wolf. 

Here are some recommendations:

  • Build and maintain strong relationships with team members: Building relationships with team members is essential for leaders to avoid becoming lone wolves. As a leader, you should take the time to get to know their team members and build trust by creating open lines of communication. Regular check-ins, one-on-one meetings, and social activities can help to build a strong bond and foster collaboration.
  • Encourage open communication: Encouraging open communication is vital for leaders to avoid becoming overly critical and losing sight of the bigger picture. You should create a culture of open communication where team members feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas without fear of criticism.
  • Delegate tasks and responsibilities: Delegating tasks and responsibilities is a great way for leaders to avoid micromanaging and becoming isolated. As a leader, empower team members by delegating tasks and responsibilities that align with their strengths and expertise. This not only helps to build trust but also promotes collaboration and teamwork.
  • Seek feedback: Seeking feedback from team members is a great way for leaders to stay grounded and avoid becoming overly critical. As a leader, look for opportunities to solicit feedback and remain open to constructive criticism. This helps to build trust, foster collaboration, and promote continuous improvement.
  • Stay connected to the larger mission: Staying connected to the larger mission is crucial for leaders to avoid losing sight of the bigger picture. To avoid myopic leadership, communicate the mission and vision of the organization clearly and ensure that team members understand their role in achieving it. This helps to promote a sense of purpose and fosters a collaborative team environment.

The cure for lone wolf syndrome? Finding your pack.

As a leader, I would be incredibly lonely as a leader without this support group of like-minded individuals. It’s only with the help of others that we can see our blind spots and correct our flaws.

To avoid the dangers of the lone wolf syndrome, introverted leaders can leverage their strengths of listening and deep connection while also building strong relationships, encouraging open communication, learning to delegate effectively,  and seeking feedback from credible, trustworthy sources around them. 

By doing this, you can foster a collaborative and supportive environment that enhances your unique leadership capabilities while also helping you and everyone around you achieve your goals.