Want to be a Leader? Shhh! Be quiet.

Retreat.

Let the dust settle.

Solitude.

Leader.

You might be asking how the above concepts relate, and that is the point of this Career Tip – “Want to Be a Leader?  Shhhh!  Be Quiet.”  Taking time to reflect, think and become quiet, and spending time in solitude are keys to becoming a more effective leader.

If you are a leader, and this includes all of us in some capacity whether at work, church, civic organization or as a parent, you are busy and a lot comes at you.  Leaders solve problems, and if you are like me, people will present you with a lot of problems:  leaders get bombarded with emails and voicemails; many leaders also travel and cannot find peace and quiet in an airport or on an airplane; leaders stay on top of task-oriented responsibilities immediately in front of them; and, leaders have personal and family responsibilities, too.

This busyness of life and work leaves very little time to recharge emotionally and intellectually.  Yet, to effectively lead, one has to have the energy to lead from an emotional and an intellectual standpoint.  Two weeks ago, I returned from a week off relaxing and recharging, and since I returned, I led an annual meeting, conducted performance reviews, traveled with flight delays due to the “Polar Vortex,” and I am already frustrated feeling I lost my “mojo” gained from vacation.  I am already asking myself, “How can I keep my energy up and lead with this constant buzz of stress due to just the day-to-day challenges, a hectic travel schedule, and just about every weekend taken up with a volleyball tournament, swim meet or concert for one of my children?”

Fortunately, I read two good but very different articles about the importance of quiet time and solitude for a leader.  The first article is a lecture by William Deresiewicz, an essayist, critic and former Yale Professor, titled “Solitude and Leadership – If You Want Others to Follow, Learn to Be Alone with Your Thoughts,” delivered to the plebe class at USMA in 2009.  You can read the lecture at http://theamericanscholar.org/solitude-and-leadership/#.Usq9E9K-qFA.  I highly encourage you to read this lecture; it is way better than my Career Tip!  The second article is from a blog called “Medium” and is not quite so profound as Deresiewicz’s lecture, though addresses the daily challenge of staying energetic and motivated.  You can read the blog post here:  https://medium.com/introvert-power/bd4243ec15e1.

Here is what I learned through reading and reflection on this topic:

  1. Idea leadership requires solitude.  One of the primary responsibilities of a leader is to provide idea leadership to shape and move an organization forward, to forecast and look around the corner to anticipate the next opportunity or issue facing an organization, to piece together seemingly unrelated events and information and make sense of them.  This is very hard to do when tackling just the day-to-day responsibilities, and quiet time to think and reflect takes secondary (or even further down the list) priority, yet is critical.  
  1. Solitude needs to be a daily activity.  I set a goal in 2014 to attend a 4-day retreat.  I quickly changed that goal.  First, I cannot spend another weekend away from home and from my family.  Not fair to them.  Second, and most importantly, I need to have quiet time each day and not wait for 3 months for 4 days in solitude.  I now schedule quiet time every day, whether at the beginning of the day, during the lunch hour, or a combination of all three. 
  1. “Let the dust settle.”  Quiet time lets things settle down, and thoughts and ideas become more clear.  When I take my son Elijah kayaking, he loves to explore the edge of the river and scooping up sludge from the bottom of the river and sifting through it.  I notice something when he does this and lets it sit in his bucket:  the murky stuff settles to the bottom and sometimes something interesting will float to the top like a minnow, a leaf or a stick.  Quiet time is like that.  The “murky stuff” settles and good ideas can rise up.  
  1. Quiet time can be just that – nothing else.  You do not and should not think all the time.  Just sit, relax.  During these first two weeks of 2014, I noticed this underlying vibe of stress.  Taking time just to be quiet and do nothing, I can turn off that vibe and hit a reset button. 
  1. Journaling organizes my thoughts.  I keep a journal to write down those thoughts that rise up from the “murky stuff.”  I use Evernote to keep and organize my journal and ideas, though you may prefer a different app or the tried and true pen and notebook. 
  1. Quiet time comes in many forms.  While my favorite quiet time is the cup of coffee in front of the fire, this is not possible with my travel schedule and also is not right for everyone.  Quiet time takes place while running, walking, exercising, and sitting on a plane (with noise-canceling headphones of course), and for me another favorite is a day on the river with my kayak.  Find your quiet time. 

So what do those words at the beginning mean for me, and my Career Tip for you?  Every day I am taking a daily retreat to be in solitude and have quiet time.  This quiet time will energize me, allow the “dust to settle” and think more clearly.  I will then be a better and more energetic leader in 2014.

 

Joel Junker

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