22 Jan Solitude… the essence of leadership?
In a speech to West Point plebes in 2009, William Deresiewicz concluded his remarks stating that solitude is the very essence of leadership. A common refrain in our country is there are too few true leaders today, which makes Sigmund Freud’s observation prescient, “Only very few civilized persons are capable of existing without reliance on others or are even capable of coming to an independent opinion.”
I believe experience is the finest teacher. Embrace obstacles and adversity, as they can serve as a source of strength and personal growth. Best-selling author Gail Sheehy wrote a book called “Pathfinders” after interviewing people who had made a difference in the world. She said she expected to find they were born to the right parents, went to the right schools, and made the right choices of mate, work, and environment. In 100 percent of the cases, that was untrue. The one thing all these people had in common was that they had experienced a “dark night of the soul,” some trauma, some emotional or physical challenge, where they had to develop the character and fortitude to come out the other side. They took adversity and let it shape them. They in turn helped shape the world.
Leverage your time and enhance your powers of observation to gain insights that accelerate your own personal growth and development. Think like a descriptive writer. Observe everything and make mental notes: Connect the dots, see complementary and opposing forces, make correlations, and draw conclusions (even if you’re wrong, you’ll learn from it!). Make new behaviors a habit that will strengthen your character to make a difference in the lives of others. But first, you have to know yourself. As Deresiewicz, says, “So solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading.”
I believe Self-Reliant Leadership is synonymous with knowing which questions to ask yourself and having the courage to answer them and act. Along with solitude, sometimes you need help coming up with the questions. Deresiewicz also told the plebes that, “Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person.”
A good leader remains a student of leadership and uses his or her acquired experiences to teach, coach, and inspire others to reach their potential. But first, we need to learn to inspire ourselves. Do you carve out the solitude and close friendships needed to ask yourself the truly difficult questions only you can answer?
The greatest achievement of the human spirit is to live up to one’s opportunities and make the most of one’s resources. –Marquis De Vauvenargues, French Moralist