As I walked the Gap of Dunloe in Southwest Ireland last week (that’s me in the far right in the photo), I separated from our hiking group, and spent the day walking alone. Thinking. Allowing my mind to gracefully wander.
“Why did you walk apart from us all day,” one of my hiking mates asked. “Were you upset about something?”
“Not at all. I was just enjoying time to think. It helps me with my work.”
As I walked I reflected on the article, “Solitude and Leadership,” by William Deresiewicz, published last year in American Scholar. (http://www.theamericanscholar.org/solitude-and-leadership/)
Based on his speech to the plebe class of West Point, Deresiewicz writes that “solitude is one of the most important necessities of true leadership.”
He also warns that we have a crisis of leadership in America because our leaders are trained and rewarded to conform, to keep routine things going.
What’s missing is the ability to think for oneself, have the courage to argue for ideas even if they are not popular, and have the moral courage to stand up for what you believe.
Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality…The position of the leader is ultimately an intensely solitary, even intensely lonely one. However many people you may consult, you are the one who has to make the hard decisions. And at such moments, all you really have is yourself.”
When I talk to client groups about the need to quiet our minds and find time to think and reflect, they often roll their eyes. “We don’t have time to do that,” they say. Of course we do. Shut your phone off while driving. Walk in the morning without being plugged into music. Let your mind wander while folding clothes or eating breakfast. On vacation, find time to break away.
The courage to lead comes from knowing and believing in our own convictions. And knowing ourselves can only be obtained from giving ourselves the gift of occasional solitude.