Leadership and loneliness

Suicide as the answer? A possibility, but meaningless

Suicide as the answer? A possibility, but meaningless

The lonely person not infrequently redeems himself from the above‐​mentioned conditions of existence by putting an end to the unbearable loneliness. World history is rich in examples of leaders pushed into absolute loneliness who put an end to their lives themselves.

An almost forgotten September 11, namely the one in 1973: Chilean democratically elected president Salvador Allende shoots himself after the army stormed the palace. Two of his daughters, his doctor, the bodyguard, and his long‐​time lover have just left him when two shots from a Kalashnikov in the »Hall of Independence« end the life of the charismatic leader. In the silence in the hall, Allende will have lost the »four‐​sound of existence«. Isolated, alone, thrown only on himself, no God to help him. In the almost complete loss of all existentials, the extinction of the self appears to be the correct consequence.

Certainly, in Allende’s case, it can be argued that suicide is a way to escape the grip of the putschists – to escape probable torture and certain assassination by Pinochet’s henchmen. A last act of self‐​empowerment, so to speak. But Malraux, Camus as well as Sartre point out that suicide is meaningless from an existential point of view, because this last option definitively excludes all further possibilities. (Of course, this is not to be judged – it is not a moral question, but precisely an existential one – and as with all existential questions, these can only be answered in a deeply personal way. »How would I decide at this point?« is a significant question, but the answer can only ever be provisional until actual action is taken).

An extreme example? The end of Allende has more to do with everyday leadership situations than might be apparent at first glance. If it is not the exitus (the suicide of – predominantly male – executives is a constant even in the modern organisational world), it is the many small »suicides« in the form of isolation, relationship breakdown or abuse, addiction and deeply felt meaninglessness that can be observed at any time and everywhere. Frequent manifestations of exhaustion depression and catatonia can be understood as ›living, i.e., experienced variants‹ of one’s own death, which are dressed up in jargon as »burnout experiences«.