Solitude and leadership seem like conflicting concepts. If you are alone, how can you lead others? But times of solitude allow for the development of traits required for leaders…traits that can be lost in a sea of noise, multi-tasking, and Twitter feeds.
Former Yale professor William Deresiwicz spoke at West Point in 2009, and his lecture made the internet rounds. If you haven’t read it, I recommend you do: www.theamericanscholar.org/solitude-and-leadership/. Deresiwicz argues that without solitude, leaders struggle to think independently, and without original and authentic thought, can’t develop the moral courage to act effectively.
Leadership requires vision. Without the ability to find new directions, we maintain the conventional wisdom, and repeat what has been done before. That’s not necessarily bad, but it eliminates the possibility of radical, transformative change and original solutions to challenges. In order to develop that vision, leaders must think for themselves—which means introspection, concentration, and sustained reading—without television, music, social media, technology, or other distractions.
Looking down at your cell phone is a barrier to command presence.
All of these stimuli flood us with other people’s thoughts, not our own. When asked your opinion on a topic, do you actually spend time thinking about the issue or do you run to Google to find out what other people think? I’ve certainly been guilty of that. Deresiwicz says that leaders rarely find the answers to the questions they face on Facebook, but through introspection and concentrated, focused thinking—without distractions.