Solitude: A Necessary Component of Leadership

William Deresiewicz delivered a lecture titled “Solitude and Leadership” in October 2009, you can read the full length essay here.  It was given to the plebe (first year students) at the United States Academy at West Point.  It is a great essay that is still very relevant today.

Deresiewicz points out that many students are conditioned to be hoop jumpers rather than thinkers.  Corporate ladder climbers are moving up by saying the right things to the right people and going with the flow.  Conformity is rewarded rather than risk taking.  This lack of creativity and independence has led to a crisis in leadership in America.

We need more thinkers willing to take the risk of climbing the ladder while exhibiting the moral courage to stand up for what one believes in.  These independent thinkers must possess confidence and not be afraid to reach beyond the safe boundaries.  Arguing for one’s ideas even when they may not be popular should be acknowledged and commended.   We need to nurture thinkers rather than doers and encourage independence in order to develop great leaders.

Today’s social media society is constantly barking other people’s thoughts and ideas, never giving one time to hear their own thoughts, let alone develop any ideas to go along with them.   We need to stress the importance of developing one’s own thoughts and ideas.  Deresiewicz points out that his first thought is never his best thought.  In fact, it is always someone else’s thought, the conventional wisdom.  It is only by taking the time to concentrate that he can bring all the parts of his mind into play to develop an original idea.  Letting our thoughts simmer rather than moving onto the next text, tweet or update brings us back to thinking for ourselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASolitude is an important component of leadership.  This doesn’t necessarily mean being alone but it does mean getting to know yourself better.  With the constant barrage of other’s thoughts and opinions, a little self reflection can be helpful to develop our own reality.   Friendship is an important part of gaining this introspective.   When we converse with a  trusted friend, we gain better insight into who we are as a person.  The value of one or two trusted friends will by far outweigh any number of virtual friends.

Take some time to yourself today.  No updates, no tweet and no texts, just you alone or with a friend.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevelop some thoughts you can call your own.

Believe in yourself and your ideas.

Argue for what you believe in.

You are worth it.



Where Are All the Women Leaders?

Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” has been on my reading list for about a year now.  With work, school and life in general, I hadn’t gotten to it.  I had read the TIME magazine article about Sheryl Sandberg titled “Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Successful“.  I was amused by Sandberg’s stories, motivated by her statistics and appreciated her belief that all women ultimately need to make their choice as to what is best for them, whether this choice includes a leadership path or not.

I took 15 minutes today to watch Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk titled “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders”.   Her TED talk focuses on the lack of women today in leadership positions and what we can do to change this. Women are faced with multiple difficult life decision, many of which teeter between their professional life and their personal life.  Many choose to drop out rather than continue the momentum necessary to reach leadership positions.

If  a women decides to stay in the workforce, Sandberg has three messages:

1) Sit at the table – This is a literal statement as well as a figurative statement.  Women often discount their contributions, abilities and knowledge as well as attribute their success to others.  Conversely, men often overestimate their abilities and attribute their succeeds to themselves.

Amazingly, it has been shown that success and likability are positively correlated in men, whereas negatively correlated in women.  A women, in most cases, has have a thick skin to make it to the top as she will, most likely, not be well liked.  A woman must work really hard to ignore the ever present fear of rejection as well as the fear of failure.

2) Make your partner a real partner – In order to reach your professional goals, the home responsibilities must be split equally rather than the imbalance that has existed for years.  Research shows that in a home where both parents work, the women does twice the amount of housework and three times the amount of childcare.  This often leads to resentment and dissatisfaction in the marriage.  In homes where couples have equal earnings and equal responsibilities, the divorce rate is cut in half.

3) Don’t leave before you leave – Keep your foot on the gas pedal rather than planning for the eventual change in your life.  Don’t avoid the promotion or shy away from added responsibilities.  Stay in the game until it is time to leave the workforce.

Clearly, each women must weigh the pro and cons with in her own life when making life decisions.  The motivation and guidance offered by Sandberg reassures us that we are not only capable but highly qualified to advance to leadership positions.  We can be successful and have a satisfying, well balanced home life.  

Sheryl Sandberg has become an advocate for women.  Her non profit organization, Lean In, provides support and inspiration for women to achieve their goals.   

Take just 15 minutes out of you day to watch her talk.  Leave me a comment as to your thoughts.