On Leadership and Solitude

Tue, 2013-11-05 22:13 -- tomjonez


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

- Robert Frost

The title of this post could seem like a contradiction; leaders must be around people in order to have anyone to lead, and yet in solitude we are alone.  So what’s the point?

The point is simple and yet also crucial.  In order to truly lead, a person needs time alone to sort through one’s personal priorities, motivations, goals, achievements - and one’s failures.  Solitude provides such an opportunity. Time away from the cacophony of voices, inputs, influences, and distractions allows a leader an opportunity to reset the gauges and gain (or regain) a sense of one’s one personal “true north.”

Time alone provides a chance to focus on not only what one is doing, but, most importantly, why one is doing it.  Only then, when we can answer “why,” can one truly lead from a place of personal conviction and a well-centered perspective that flows from a well-defined set of personal core values.

So how can we develop a practice of spending time alone?  Here are several ideas:

  1. Start by taking one day a quarter - and spend it alone. Take a drive, visit a national or State park, head for a beach, get alone.  Somewhere.
  2. Take paper and pen; a journal if you do that kind of thing.
  3. Leave the cell phone home. Leave the Wi-Fi-connected computer at home.
  4. Go alone.
  5. Take your calendar.  Look it over.  Ask yourself, “What and who is getting the lion’s-share of my time? Does my calendar truly reflect my own goals and objectives?  My values? My convictions? Or someone else’s?”  Plan the next few months accordingly.  Reprioritize. On your calendar.
  6. If you can’t get away soon, place a day on the calendar for your personal day of solitude now.  Go out as far as necessary on your existing calendar and schedule the day of solitude and block it out.
  7. During the day away, consider making two lists.  On the first list, write down the names of the 10 people you want to call, to visit, to write, to thank, to forgive. On the second list, write down 3 things you want to do that are meaningful, and that are consistent with the highest and best use of your life and time.  Set a deadline to complete each list. Make a personal commitment to do so.

There may be other simple ideas that will help inspire and structure the day of solitude.  The key is to keep it simple.  Uncomplicated.  To actually do it.

One final warning regarding spending a day of solitude: as you approach that day, everything will try to keep you from honoring it as a day of solitude.  The tyranny of the urgent will attack - with vengeance.

Don’t give in. Protect the day. Spend it alone.  Leaders need to get away. To be alone. To find solitude.

In order to lead.