Posted: 18 Aug 2017 05:11 PM PDT
E LIVE in an age of noise. Getting some time for yourself is a challenge. But if we are going to lead effectively, we need white space. We need solitude.
I know none of us have any extra time, but there is overwhelming evidence that taking a time-out to simply think is foundational to your success.
Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin explore some solid reasons why you must make the time to think in Lead Yourself First.
When we say solitude we mean a “subjective state of mind, in which the mind, isolated from input from other minds, works through a problem on its own.” There is no particular structure to it—place, time, or length—but it must focus the mind. It’s scheduled white space—a commitment you make to yourself simply because your leadership begins with who you are—not what you do.
So let’s look at four things solitude will do for you.
Clarity is about what is true. What is signal and what is noise? Solitude facilitates that distillation process. It helps you to eliminate or deliberately deemphasize all distractions. That alone will help you to make the time to think. Clarity and focus go hand-in-hand. That kind of focused attention is often best done alone.
Intuition complements analytical thought. When we get stuck, “intuition can provide clarity when analytical thinking cannot.” The challenge is accessing it. Accessing intuition requires “a deeper form of solitude: an absence of inputs not only from other minds, but also from one’s own.”
Clarity is important for decision-making but it is also critical for understanding who you are—strengths and weaknesses. It helps to connect you with your core values and understand your place from that perspective.
Solitude opens the path to creativity. Solitude isn’t always the shortest distance to the goal. Joey Reiman, CEO of the consulting firm BrightHouse, credits their success to their “longer, incubation pace.” On one project he says, “If we had moved at a faster, business pace, we never would have excavated that original brand identity and then generalized it into a new ethos.”
Dena Braeger, mother of six in El Paso, offered this insight into information overload:
People make such an effort to copy what other people do, because we have so much access to information. I’m surrounded by people on Pinterest. I’ll be dammed if I make something on Pinterest. You’ll see things like these cupcakes that look amazing. And people copy them. But on the inside their phony, because the person didn’t create it themselves. We’re getting more of everything, but less of what is authentically ourselves. If we spent more time alone, creating something that might not look as amazing but is more authentic, we’d value ourselves more.
Creativity is doing something differently than the norm. Solitude allows us to get away from the inertia of our environment and connect to new possibilities.
Emotional balance requires you to respond rather than react. General James Mattis finds a lack of reflection the single biggest problem facing leaders. “The leader who neglects to step out of the sweep of events, to contemplate from whence they come and where they might go. Finds himself merely blown from one thing to another. But the leader who steps outside events is a leader who can change them.”
Solitude allows you to reflect on what is making you emotional and provide clarity on the issue. Often what you are emotional about is more of a distraction than an issue. Again Dena Braeger, the West Point graduate and mother of six in El Paso, said, “When I’m practicing solitude regularly, I self-correct so much better. I’m more focused on what’s important, and I let things go that aren’t important.”
Instead of allowing our emotions to adversely affect our leadership, it is wise to move away and deal with them in private. Our emotions will find an outlet somewhere. And that is best alone than in decisions made through unfiltered emotions that affect those around us.
We’ve all seen them: leaders who take themselves too seriously—who believe their own press release. And it’s all too easy for any of us to fall prey to self-admiration. “Honest reflation can deflate these pretentions.” Reflection can pave the way to humility.
Solitude allows you to slow down and be clear and firmly convicted of your values and beliefs. “Leaders who are well anchored in what they believe are going to be more effective,” says Doug Conant, the former CEO and president of the Campbell Soup Company. When those criticisms come along that are design to enforce conformity, it is easier to weather the storm when you know that what you are doing is the right thing to do for the right reasons. It is the power to rise above.
Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, says that “The biggest mistake I’ve made in my career to date is believing that solitude is a luxury. I could chart the ups and downs of my quality of life personally and professionally and the amount of time I spend in solitude.” As important as it is, it is easy to let it slip away without even realizing it. We are continuously bombarded by pressures—both personal and social—not to stop and reflect but if we lose our solitude, we will lose who we are.
You don’t have to go off to a mountaintop or sit at the seashore. It can be a closed room, the library, a park bench, and even a waiting room.
We have a responsibility to seek out periods of solitude. We owe it to ourselves and those we lead.