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Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude Hardcover – June 13, 2017
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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"Lead Yourself First makes a compelling argument for the integral relationship between solitude and leadership." - Andrew Stark, Wall Street Journal
"A thoughtful new book Lead Yourself First . . . tells the stories of many inspiring leaders throughout history who relied on solitude at crucial moments in their lives, from Winston Churchill and Pope John Paul II to Martin Luther King Jr. and Aung San Suu Kyi . . . But as the authors point out, you don't have to lead armies, corporations, or artistic movements to benefit from solitude." - The Washington Post
"This thoughtful self-improvement guide from Kethledge, a Sixth Circuit judge, and Erwin, founder of the nonprofit Positivity Project, is a must-read for leaders who take their leadership roles seriously. It is a book to digest slowly, a powerful narrative . . . . This book is a rare gem, offering an optimistic message that there remain powerful leaders intent on being courageous and moral, and on finding 'transcendent meaning' in their vocation." - Publishers Weekly
"Solitude is the birthplace of clarity and perspective. As a leader, I’ve experienced this truth and as a researcher I’ve seen the power that solitude brings to leaders. The tough part is that it takes real courage and discipline to make solitude a practice. In this important book, Ray Kethledge and Mike Erwin show us how it’s done and the profound difference it can make in our organizations." - Brené Brown, Ph.D. Author of DARING GREATLY and RISING STRONG
"I’ve never met an effective leader--in any field or in private life--who doesn’t see solitude as crucial to their work in the world. Yet too many people believe that solitary time is wasted time, self-indulgent time. Through a series of fascinating case studies, Ray Kethledge and Mike Erwin make a powerful case--and an urgent plea--for placing quiet time at the beating heart of every leader’s daily schedule." - Susan Cain, author of QUIET
"In Lead Yourself First, Ray Kethledge and Mike Erwin explain why it is so important for leaders to get away from the technology and to reassess and reorganize their own thoughts, in order to make the right decisions. This book offers great insights and comes at a critical time for business leaders. Certainly a must-read for any leader who feels the crush of information overload." - General Stanley McChrystal (retired), former Commander of Joint Special Operations Command
"Lead Yourself First is a beautiful, empowering, and engaging book. In my heart, I've always known the importance of solitude. Amid the world's constant noise, I've trained myself to look in the mirror and create silence and space when things are at their brink. This inspiring book reminds us that everything we need is already inside of us." - Kerri Walsh Jennings 4-time Olympic medalist in Beach Volleyball
About the Author
Raymond M. Kethledge is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He formerly served as a law clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy and to Judge Ralph B. Guy Jr., and founded his own law firm with two partners. Ray received a B.A. (in History) from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, where he teaches a seminar on writing and oral advocacy each year. He lives with his family near Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Michael S. Erwin is a graduate of West Point and served two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. He now serves as the CEO of the Character & Leadership Center and the president of The Positivity Project. He is also the founder and chairman of Team Red, White & Blue, a veteran-support non-profit with more than 130,000 members nationwide. Mike continues to serve as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserves and is an assistant professor in Leadership and Psychology at West Point. He lives with his family in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
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Leadership solitude is productive solitude, to be used purposely, and with an end in mind. When solitude is successful, the result is an insight or a broader view of things, with clear-eyed, inspired conviction. This is the foundation of leadership, the authors assert. The authors make their case through leaders in all walks of life from Dwight Eisenhower and James Mattis, to Jane Goodall and Aung San Suu Kyi.
What we need from leaders is clarity and conviction of purpose; we need to feel their moral courage. Leaders need clarity, conviction and courage to sustain themselves through the inevitable adversity from colleagues, staff, shareholders, the competition, and more.
We live in an age starved for solitude - with e-mails, texts, tweets, the Internet with its information overload, all swarming about the leader (and almost everyone else). The essence of solitude is mental isolation, the very opposite of accessibility. “Responding to these inputs generates as much thought, and as much inspiration, as swatting so many flies.”
The leader needs to have lot more “screened-off areas” than there are now. Solitude is not necessarily physical separation from others, or togetherness with nature, it can be found as readily while sitting alone in a restaurant.
It is, simply, “a subjective state of mind, in which the mind, isolated from input from other minds, works through a problem on its own”, the authors explain
Leaders should always feel, and be held responsible for their decisions, because their decisions always have consequences, good and bad. Leaders who bear the consequences must do so to a larger vision, often not fully understood or understandable by others.
This is where solitude plays its part and can produce the clarity to know when the easy path is the wrong one. Clarity is often a difficult thing because the concerns of the present seem to overwhelm the potentially greater concerns that lie in the future.
Solitude offers ways for leaders to obtain greater clarity in many arenas, but they all stem from silencing the din in your mind. With a quiet mind, you then hear the “delicate voice of intuition”, which may have already made connections that your conscious mind has not. This is because intuition forms beneath the surface of conscious thought. It is not focused on what you are experiencing now, but instead draws on all your experiences, past and present.
Solitude doesn’t take the place of analytical clarity. This hard-won kind of clarity is most often the result of strenuous effort and rigorous syllogistic thought. The more difficult leadership decisions, however, (which include decisions about people,) are often beyond analytical clarity. It is after this analytical work that you need solitude to allow your intuition to emerge, your quiet inner voice. If the analysis or recommendation doesn’t feel right, you are probably better advised by your intuition.
Solitude is not only required for clarifying which of the available options will be most effective: it is also essential to creativity and the development of a possibility that you were not aware of.
A creative work or idea, is often the rejection of established norms of your context, but as often it is new or based on horizontal connections between things that never seemed related. A creative decision is often the convergence of information, intuition, and your values. To arrive at this decision requires solitude.
The psychologist Viktor Frankl, explained that between every stimulus and response, there is a space. Silence and solitude create this space, and can elongate it. The space gives you time to develop a creative response to what you’re feeling and thinking. Without this solitude there is only reaction.
Added to the value of solitude to decision-making, is its value on an emotional level. Many of the people described in the book used silence and solitude to stay grounded.
Leaders must inevitably take on forces larger than themselves, and it is only through clarity and conviction that they can be a match for these forces. Leaders who come to that process with equanimity, put no emotional distortion of their own on the scale. And as every leader knows, this equanimity is often more fragile than one lets on.
It is common for leaders with great responsibility to be racked with anxiety. However, no one will choose to follow someone who manifests this anxiety. “The leader needs to have presence, to show up to the moment grounded in one’s self, as centred as one can be, ready to hear, to listen, to discern” the authors point out.
James Mattis, a retired four-star Marine Corps General put it well: “An effective leader is the person who can maintain their balance and reflect, when a lot of people around them are reacting.” He sees the single biggest problem of senior leadership in the information age, as a lack of reflection.
Solitude allows you to reflect while others are reacting, and not only restores emotional balance, but helps to maintain it. I am sure your personal experience, like mine, has made distinguishing between effective leaders and inferior ones, largely informed by their ability to restore their emotional balance.
“Our culture has become more strident than sublime, with a coarseness that has worn away the delicate alloy of beauty and decency that used to be called grace,” the authors explain elegantly.
To lead others, you must lead yourself, which the title of the book asserts. Practicing solitude is a critical, personal practice that cannot be ignored.
Readability Light --+-- Serious
Insights High -+--- Low
Practical High +---- Low
*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy, and is the author of the recently released ‘Executive Update.
Much of the book talks about well-known and proven leaders and personalities; Dwight Eisenhower, Jane Goodall, Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, Ulysses Grant and Abraham Lincoln. But it also talks about a host of lesser known successful people, including the two authors of the book. Each of the stories dwells on a different kind of insight that came from solitary thinking. Solitude can foster both creative as well as moral clarity. It can allow one to integrate diverse threads of thought and reach a conclusion. It is especially important in times of conflict or crisis, when you are likely to be surrounded by people who are impatient for you to make a decision.
Eisenhower was a good example of someone who had to make enormously important decisions under a lot of pressure. One anecdote in the book talks about how, when George Marshall who was Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army asked him a key question regarding the war in Europe, Eisenhower asked for a few hours to think about it; many other people would have thought of something trivial or ill-advised on the spot to please their superiors. For Jane Goodall, spending months alone with chimpanzees and other apes in the wild allowed unconventional thinking. The time she spent alone with these creatures made her realize that their behavior is best understood through the observation of individuals; this went against the conventional thinking of the time that assumed that key aspects of ape biology and sociology could be learnt through species-wide observations alone.
Solitude gave Lincoln the opportunity to vent after he realized that his general George Meade had allowed Robert E. Lee to get away across the Potomac after a successful routing at Gettysburg. In Lincoln’s eyes, Meade lost a chance to end a brutal war and save thousands of lives quickly. Lincoln actually wept at this realization in the privacy of his bedchamber. Remarkably, he wrote a letter severely reprimanding Meade…and then never sent it. Ulysses Grant came up with a bold and daring plan to capture a fort on the Mississippi river at Vicksburg that had cut the river in half and prevented northern shipping from reaching New Orleans. To accomplish this, Grant shut himself up for days on a ship, smoking and poring over maps and notes, showing such intense concentration that sometimes he walked over to the neighboring desk in a seated position to retrieve documents. When he emerged he had a radical plan that was opposed by many of his fellow soldiers but which was successful. Churchill’s years of solitude before World War 2 were spent in honing his exceptional skills as a writer, skills that prepared him for shouldering the heavy burden of leadership during the war. Finally, Martin Luther King Jr. used his time alone to connect with God and to get inspiration for the Civil Rights movement. There are thus several goals that can served by spending time with yourself.
As the book demonstrates though several anecdotes of both ordinary and famous people, some practice solitude by going on meditation retreats, others deliberately take time every day to shut themselves in their office. I especially liked that a good number of the people cited in the book create a pocket of solitude for themselves on long runs, runs on which they have conceived of any number of ideas; for starting businesses and non-profits, for political campaigns and for career or family-related changes.
The gist of the book is that deliberately practicing solitary thinking can help people with important moral, strategic, creative and personal decisions; these lessons make for good antidotes for our hyperconnected world. Man is a social animal, but he’s also clearly endowed with a brain that often functions best when left alone. I would pair this book with two others; Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” which extols the benefits of uninterrupted periods of thinking and work, and Susan Cain’s “Quiet” which talks about the power of introverts.
Most recent customer reviews
Kethledge and Erwin start with a promising thesis: that it's essential for leaders to unplug from interaction with others and spend...Read more