Solitude: The Foundation of Personal Leadership
“We live, in fact, in an age starved for solitude.”—C.S. Lewis
Solitude has played a critical role in my own leadership journey. Comfortableness with solitude has been imbedded in me since early childhood where I grew up in a home and neighborhood without children my age. As my ministry and life responsibilities grew I found I needed even more solitude. Solitude created a sacred space for me where I became more conscious of what I was feeling, what was going on inside of me, and what God was saying to me.
I discovered solitude is most needed when I am hyper-functioning in a hyper-extroverted environment. Unquestionably, a contributing factor to the public and private failures prevalent in today’s church leaders is the rushing river of religious activity that is not preceded and fed by a still lake of religious inactivity. When we get alone with God and wait in solitude until the Spirit shows up, then when we take action our activity has significance because God prepared us for it.
Solitude by definition is a state of mind where the mind is isolated from the input of other minds. It can happen in a remote forest or in a busy coffee shop. The key element is mental isolation. Counter-intuitively, solitude is always productive. Solitude may produce the intangible result of the resting and restoring of the body, mind, and soul or spur reflection that produces clear insights and tangible actions.
To see the more tangible results of solitude requires a purposefulness that begins with the end in mind. It requires working your mind actively, not passively. It demands that you focus your thoughts without distraction. Our minds are too accessible today with too many fragmented and shallow inputs that intrude and keep us from purposeful reflection and focused thinking. Today it takes a conscious and disciplined effort to unplug and make one’s mind inaccessible.
Through fascinating case studies of past and present leaders, Raymond Kethledge and Michael Irwin in their book, Lead Yourself First, show how leaders throughout history have routinely used solitude to function more effectively as leaders. From “tractor time” to “wall time” to “nature time” effective leaders commit to the hard work of time alone as a foundation of their personal leadership.
Finding Purpose in Solitude
Not surprisingly, intentional leaders have different purposes for the use of solitude based upon the needs of the moment. These may include clarity, creativity, conviction, confidence and courage.
Clarity: Solitude helps me think through steps and outcomes when I’m confronted with a complex, convoluted, and jumbled mass of information. Solitude allows for the confluence of my concrete analytical thought with my subconscious intuitive thought.
Creativity: In the midst of solitude I frequently see third alternatives, think outside the box, and experience “aha” moments. In times of solitude I make connections and discover new paradigms that challenge my underlying assumptions and spark new ways of thinking and acting.
Conviction: Solitude allows for introspection and reflection on myself, my beliefs, and my values. It leads me to be my truest, most authentic, and best self.
Confidence: Solitude provides me the confidence that my decisions are aligned with God’s will and reflect Spirit guided counsel and wisdom.
Courage: Many leadership decisions have far reaching impact and provoke criticism and actions that have emotional and material consequences for ourselves, our families, and our congregations. Solitude is the birthplace of the courage to make those decisions anyway and to act in the face of fear.
Committing to the hard work of time alone is a message needed now more than ever for church leaders. Jim Collins said it well…….”Today’s leaders must be disciplined leaders who create the quiet space for disciplined thought that helps them summon the strength for disciplined action.”
Posted on June 12, 2018