How To Become The Heart Of Successful Leadership: This Is What You Need To Know

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Inspired by: Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude, Raymond M. Kethledge and Michael S. Erwin

Leading Yourself 1st – Solitude In Leadership

The value of solitude is a critical, but often overlooked, component of leadership success. Click To Tweet Finding quiet space in leadership roles is challenging, made even more so with the expectations of constant connectivity.

‘Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude’, by Raymond M. Kethledge and Michael S. Erwin, focuses on solitude as an essential practice for effective, high-level leadership. Its central thesis is that, to lead effectively, you must first lead yourself. Leadership As A Quiet Journey

My own journey as a leader has a search for solitude as a central piece. When I was invited to speak to a group of emerging leaders, I chose as my topic ‘Leadership: A Quiet Journey’. I spoke about what I’d learned from my leadership experiences as an INTJ, and introvert at the extreme end of the spectrum. In this, I drew on learning and evidence from “Quiet” by Susan Cain and “Quiet Influence” by Jennifer Kahnweiler.

From experience, I had come to understand the value of making space and time in my day for deep, focused thought. I realized that my skill in writing was just as effective a leadership strategy as speaking, if not more so. I had learnt most about leadership when I had no direct-line management of people, and it was all about self-leadership.

Being quiet, writing, reading books and seeking solitude felt like a curious thing to be talking about in terms of leadership. My discomfort made me realize that my experience was not a subject that was commonly talked about.

The Challenges Of Finding Solitude In Leadership

Whilst those who are naturally quiet will likely already be seeking solitude in their leadership role, the challenges working against them are increasing. The impact of technology, and the expectations of always being available make closing the door, going for a walk, or putting an hour aside to think, difficult to justify to currently-held workplace philosophies. Technology and social media contexts create additional obstacles for leaders, as they work through the sheer amount of information and people-contact generated. It also promotes the perception of being accessible across all levels of the organization, negatively impacting workplace wellbeing.

The reality is that now, more than ever, all people (regardless of their personality preferences) need to create the space and time for deep thought and reflection in order to enable high-level leadership practices. We need to exercise the discipline to unplug from the world, and connect with ourselves. Click To Tweet This is true even when dealing with stressful situations like when we apply for a job, submit a resume, and are looking for work. Conversely, talent acquisition and human resources management can be equally overwhelming. We all need to designate internet-free periods for our own mental health, or else we risk burn out. We must keep the vision in mind, as the long-term success of our goals depends on it. We need to be aware of what we are losing by not making this space in our days.

Solitude And Leadership Qualities

With ‘Lead Yourself First’, Kethledge and Erwin build on the work of Susan Cain and others. They extend the context of valuing quiet strengths to the critical difference that solitude, in leadership, benefits all personality types.

Through research, case-studies, and interviews with inspiring leaders, the authors make a strong argument for establishing the discipline of leadership-solitude. They create a space where leadership and solitude can be talked about together more comfortably. In addition, they provide a qualitative evidence-base for this. Most importantly, they provide practical strategies for creating solitude to enable strong, self-leadership. From these practices, the effective leadership of others is born.

Kethledge and Erwin focus on four leadership qualities that solitude enhances: Clarity, Creativity, Emotional Balance, and Moral Courage. Their analysis of each of these qualities is through stories of how leaders have accessed solitude. For example, we can find clarity through both analytical clarity and intuition, as shown in contrasting case studies of how Dwight D. Eisenhower and Jane Goodall honed their leadership skills in different contexts.

The Discipline And Practice Of Solitude

According to the authors’ research, one develops a practice of quiet-leadership solitude in two key ways:

  • Build ‘pockets of solitude’ into your life in a systematic way

  • Maximizing any unexpected solitude opportunities

These two disciplines weave through the case-study and interview stories. Leaders create spaces of solitude in their lives in many ways that are personally effective for them. Taking the Viktor Frankl maxim that there is a space between every stimulus and response, the leaders describe how they consistently create and commit to this space to develop considered responses.

Co-author and extrovert Michael Erwin, in his leadership role as an Intelligence Officer in combat zones, regularly went for long runs in 100-plus degree heat in the desert, to clear his head and focus on his leadership decisions. Winston Churchill laid bricks as a way of creating a ‘personal bubble of quiet’.

The ability to recognize and make use of unexpected opportunities for solitude should also be considered an art to practice. Events like unexpected life changes, flight delays and cancelled appointments are all potential opportunities for solitude and quiet work. Take advantage!

Effective Leadership-Solitude Practice

The book describes effective leadership-solitude practices through a series of case studies and interviews drawn from a range of contexts. These include military strategy, politics, education, religious and civil rights, scientific discovery and the corporate world. This is valuable for seeing the universal golden threads of solitude and its empowering capacities for leaders.

Writing As Clarifying Reflection And Strategic Practice

Thinking by writing is an underrated, strategic, leadership-skill; it has great power to connect thoughts and generate new perspectives. Dwight D. Eisenhower used the strategy of writing memos to himself as a way of clearing his mind. As he described it: “I’m just collecting my thoughts in a structured way.”

Winston Churchill, a serious and committed writer, commenced his writing work at 11 pm. This practice was a way of focusing his thoughts and gaining historical perspective. The power of writing gave him the ability to speak with courage and authority as reflected in his speeches. No doubt, the quiet of the hour when he wrote allowed his thoughts to flow freely, uninterrupted.

 Moral Courage And Seeing Solitude As A 1st Principle

Brene Brown said in an interview that our biggest mistake can be to view solitude as a luxury. She stresses the need for it as a first principle. Whilst the social pressures to resist solitude are ever present, the courage and dedication required to carve out regular alone time is worth it. As Kethledge and Erwin reinforce, solitude is “not the reward for great leadership but the path to it.”

Choosing To Reclaim Solitude In Leadership

Readers are encouraged to reclaim solitude in leadership. The first, and most encompassing way, is to reset explicit expectations around how you plan to work differently. A mindset shift.

Strategies include:

  • Identifying a certain number of ‘no meeting’ days a month

  • Setting aside time to think as an identified part of the day

  • Setting a policy of ‘no email communication’ over the weekend

  • Explicitly addressing the need for solitude in the workplace

Finding physical solitude havens, such as the workplace library or other quiet locations, is also a suggested strategy. Identifying life activities that help achieve leadership qualities is also encouraged. This includes meditation for emotional balance, journal writing for clarity, or movement for mental stillness.

Like the feelings I experienced in speaking to emerging leaders about my quiet-leadership journey, we may initially feel uncomfortable in talking about solitude practices or acting on them. They may be challenging for others, or we may risk being seen as non-conformists. The greater consequence is a loss of priorities as we drown in a lack of focus.

Contribution To Solitude In Leadership

‘Lead Yourself First’ is a valuable contribution to the field of leadership and to the subject of quiet influence. Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet”, helped make being an introvert easier to understand and talk about. The intention is to enable leaders to carve solitude into their days, and to discuss it as a means of initiating change.

The most authentic form of leadership is that by example, especially by those best positioned to affect change. In order to encourage employee engagement, establish and maintain a strong company culture, attract and retain top talent, and grow and progress as an organization (both individually, and as a whole), this topic is one that requires serious consideration from the top level down, more resources, and implementation.

I encourage you to reconsider your own ways of working. My hope is that more people focus on the higher purposes of leadership, in contrast to the moment-to-moment response to the latest email or crisis. We can only benefit from that fuller inhabitation, that oneness with ourselves, that such moments of solitude and self-leadership provide.

Do you have any workplace or personal leadership stories? Any great tips or advice you’d like to share? We’d love to hear what you’ve got. Comment below, and connect with us on Social Media!