Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On Solitude and Leadership



Last week, when I wrote about isolation, the isolation of a leader from the group that is, I didn’t make emphasis enough that there is another component called Solitude. Isolation and Solitude are not the same:

Isolation means being without relation to other people or things. Being separated, cut off in other words. 

Solitude is the state or situation of being alone. 

Leadership requires these times of solitude. Solitude, being yourself, finding yourself, concentrating, focusing, thinking profoundly your own thoughts for yourself. There is so much noise around us in our ever faster paced world, hence it is even more necessary to spend time alone... being in solitude ... to get the clarity required, gaining a deeper understanding when being in a leadership position. It also means that a leader needs to immerse oneself into many different fields, which requires studying thoroughly the different matters. In a way it’s like doing research, which then prepares you for the complex and difficult situations to come ... and come they will. 

However, a leader should also be in close contact with his group. The combined knowledge of the group is a valuable source of information. Taking into consideration the different perspectives of his group members enhances and broadens the view of the situation at hand. I have talked about that. 

During my own research I came across a great essay, presentation actually, by William Deresiewicz given at West Point Academy in October 2009. He eloquently describes in detail what I am talking about here. I would like to encourage you to take your time and read this essay, it’s definitely worth your time:


Some excerpts:
  • Does being a leader, I wondered, just mean being accomplished, being successful? Does getting straight As make you a leader? I didn’t think so. Great heart surgeons or great novelistsor great shortstops may be terrific at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they’re leaders. Leadership and aptitude, leadership and achievement, leadership and even excellence have to be different things, otherwise the concept of leadership has no meaning.

  • We have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of expertise. What we don’t have are leaders.
  • What we don’t have, in other words, are thinkers. People who can think for themselves. People who can formulate a new direction: for the country, for a corporation or a college, for the Army—a new way of doing things, a new way of looking at things. People, in other words, with vision.

  • What makes him a thinker—and a leader—is precisely that he is able to think things through for himself. And because he can, he has the confidence, the courage, to argue for his ideas even when they aren’t popular. Even when they don’t please his superiors. Courage: there is physical courage, which you all possess in abundance, and then there is another kind of courage, moral courage, the courage to stand up for what you believe.

  • “Your own reality—for yourself, not for others.” Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality. Here’s the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times. When you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now—older people as well as younger people—you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts. You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom. In other people’s reality: for others, not for yourself. You are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice, whether it’s yourself you’re thinking about or anything else.

  • Leadership means finding a new direction, not simply putting yourself at the front of the herd that’s heading toward the cliff.


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.

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