By Chris Agnew:
“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.”
Often in leadership you are expected (and wired) to step out in front. This takes you into a lonely place, a risky place and what I have found (thankfully early in the journey) is that there are a wealth of things that inform leadership that run beneath the surface of our own lives, aspects that we may be completely unaware of, but that are of critical influence in how we make decisions, especially when we are stepping out. In that place of risk we often depend on our own instincts and experience, but what is fuelling even these? In accessing our own solitude we may tap into these things and gain a little more insight.
I was introduced to a great little book that deals with this very opportunity of using your solitude well, entitled “Strengthening The Soul of Your Leadership“by Ruth Haley Barton. Her premise is what if solitude, instead of being viewed as a lonely, narcissistic place, could be harnessed to be a place of discovery, depth and empowerment in our leadership?
“What would it be like if we lead consistently from the place of our own souls and encounters with God, rather than from our own heads, our unbridled activism, or our performance oriented drivenness?”
The journey into solitude and our own psyches can be one that uncomfortably confronts some of the issues that we don’t even realise that we exhibit. This can mean we are blind to how our actions impact on those we lead and as she reflects,
“the personal insecurities, feelings of inferiority and need for parental approval (among other dysfunctions) that compel people to become successful leaders are often the very same issues that precipitate their failure.”
Confronting these silent assassins, or indeed unlocking the potential hidden gems in our leadership is crucial and the act of harnessing solitude could be the pathway to the “brightest gems in a useful life”. Indeed,
“a leader is a person who must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside him or herself, inside his or her consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good”. So how do we begin to go on this journey and take that responsibility?
Three tips to harnessing the power of solitude from my reflections on this insightful little book:
1. Crave the place of solitude. Don’t run from it.
Learn to hunger for the space where reflection and discovery can occur. This is perhaps the most important as without it, it becomes nigh on impossible to go on the journey. The things you have in your life now are the things you prioritise, and I reckon that solitude is not high on the list. Crave it.
2. Craft the place of solitude. Create the space.
Often we will not be given it by demanding schedules, balancing family and work life, never mind the disruptions that are thrown into the mix. By scheduling in space to explore this avenue we allow time to jettison the 101 thoughts that are running around our heads about vision, strategy and people and we can start to do some soul searching. Craft it.
3. Capture the place of solitude.
Learn how you learn and learn how you listen best. There are a number of factors in this, but here are a couple of pointers to consider.
a. When do you learn and have the headspace to think clearest? Is it early in the morning, is it late at night, is it at lunchtime? Personally if at all possible I prefer early morning as it starts the day with an opportunity to learn instead of pressure to be somewhere on time.
b. Where do you learn? Are you a coffee and armchair person? Or do you function best walking in the hills? This is important in determining how you craft your solitude.
c. How do you learn? Are you a paper and pen kind of person? Do you learn pictorially or kinaesthetically? Visually or aurally? If you’re not sure, there a number of online tools, or ask your closest peers. Use how you learn best to delve into the depths of solitude intentionally.
d. What have you learned? Make a physical or mental note of the things you are learning. And once you’ve identified those things in your own leadership that run beneath the surface and inform your practice learn how to view your decision making and relationships through that lens and use that to progress in your leadership. Capture it.
In harnessing the power of solitude we go on a journey, and as we do this we learn to lead others into the place of solitude, encourage them to discover who they truly are, gain perspective into what they are bringing to the table, what demons to banish, and how in the future they themselves could be in the position of leading others through that journey.
Crave. Craft. Capture. And then share it with others – don’t let solitude stop with you.