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.
Solitude 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.
Believe in yourself and your ideas.
Argue for what you believe in.
You are worth it.