Guest article by Ajay Tanna – Brisbane, Australia.
Solitude has been instrumental to the effectiveness of leaders throughout history. In today’s connected world, virtually everyone is staring down at their phones instead of being alone with their thoughts. Humans have unknowingly surrendered their reflection time in favour of spending time reading texts and tweets. With an awareness of what we have lost to these rectangular objects in our hand we must make a planned effort to reclaim what we have lost.
Leaders as exemplars have an obligation to seek periods of solitude.
What does Solitude mean? Cambridge dictionary says it is ‘the situation of being alone’. A lot of people interpret it as being physically separated from other people. Someone might be five miles away from the next human being, scrolling through their Instagram feed or checking their email, but that’s not solitude. On the other hand, if that person is in a coffee shop surrounded by 25 or 30 other people, and is isolating inputs from other minds, then that is solitude. So, it’s the state of mind where the mind focuses on its own thoughts, free of distraction. In other words, solitude is freedom from the input from other minds.
In general, it is assumed that leaders should be constantly accessible. If not in person, then electronically. Changing that assumption requires a strong will. A leader can designate a certain number of workdays per month as no meeting days. A leader can mark off 60 or 90 minutes on his calendar each day for time set aside to think. A leader can communicate to his\her team that they do not text and that they check email only intermittently at certain points in the day.
There is a lot that falls onto a leader’s plate and there always has. But in the information age, because of how accessible we are, the demands on a leader’s time have arguably never been more pressured. The answer that a lot of leaders came up with, especially in the past 5-10 years is to work longer and to work harder.
Advantages of have a planned period of Solitude
Consistent engagement in periods of solitude enables leaders to see through the murkiness and to identify key variables to help them make the right decisions. They think clearly which helps them to make decisions faster. Solitude fortifies a leader’s ability to establish and maintain emotional balance, especially when there is so much going on. It strengthens a leader’s ability to lead with moral courage and with integrity. It has now become a competitive advantage in today’s world. Again, going back to that definition of what solitude is, freedom from the input from other minds, the ability to get inside one’s own mind and to think for oneself, to reflect, to focus, to do the hard thinking that leadership demands. If one has the discipline to do that, it is now a competitive advantage because so many leaders across most of the different sectors and fields out there are no longer doing it. And so, if they have the willpower to make this a priority in life, it can pay huge dividends.
How to reclaim solitude?
How to maintain this discipline of ensuring that mind has freedom from the inputs from other minds? I think there’s two important ways to think about this.
The first is deliberately planned time. How to structure solitude into life and not just episodically but on a consistent basis? This might be something early in the morning during meditation. It might be some time throughout the day or while driving somewhere, just turn off the radio, turn off the inputs from other minds, or it might be later in the evening, but it’s important to decide how and then schedule it so it runs on autopilot i.e. when driving from point A to point B is time for solitude.
The other is called Window of opportunity. Throughout a given day, there are all kinds of ways where a three-minute window might emerge or pop up. And it could be while waiting for a dentist appointment or while boarding the airplane, do an audit and identify small pockets of time, these targets of opportunity which add up incrementally by the end of the day to a pretty substantial amount of time.
The deepest source of inspiration resides within oneself and that when one engages in solitude that internal inspiration can be unlocked and can have a profound impact on oneself, the people they lead and the rest of their lives.
This article is inspired by book “Lead Yourself First – Inspiring Leadership through Solitude” by Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin