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Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude Paperback – October 9, 2018
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“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
“Lead Yourself First makes a compelling argument for the integral relationship between solitude and leadership.” ―Wall Street Journal
“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.” ―Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Raymond M. Kethledge is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and was a candidate for the Supreme Court in 2018. He formerly served as a law clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy and founded his own law firm. He lives near Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Michael S. Erwin is a graduate of West Point and served three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is now the CEO of the Character & Leadership Center, the president of the Positivity Project, and the founder and chairman of Team Red, White & Blue. He lives in North Carolina.
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"Lead Yourself First" by Mike Erwin and Judge Kethledge is an absolute beast. Read it! It's a one stop shop for those looking to better understand their own leadership status and more importantly, their own ultimate leadership potential.
Like many leadership books, LYF covers leadership "for others" by discussing self. Of course, if you're a mess, how can you expect to lead others? Self care is important- so important that it really never ends. So how do we do this? The authors make their case by both analyzing in great detail the lives of historical leaders as well as interviewing dozens of everyday leaders alive today. This blend makes the read educational, entertaining, relevant and inspiring. LYF answers the question, "how then shall we lead?", by breaking leadership self-care into 4 important sections. I call them "clarity", "the unseen", "balance" and "courage".
In the first section, which I call "Clarity", Erwin and Kethledge discuss the difference between clarity and analytical clarity and why they're both important. Clarity being derived moreso from mental quietude, analytical clarity through rigorous syllogistic thought. The takeaway here is that good decisions take clarity- clarity to know and clarity to recognize and trust what you think you know (your intuition). We learn that clarity comes through repetition, listening and concerted effort. It is a choice.
In part two we read about how allowing for outside forces, opening our eyes to the unseen and trusting our intuition can incubate the unconventional ideas that are often times necessary to solve complex problems. The secret sauce to this? Understanding your values. If you know what your values are you'll have confidence in what you think you see, in what you think you think, in your purpose, and thus, you'll better connect to your ability to create solutions.
Part three, "Balance", examines the proper reaction when leaders take on forces larger than themselves. Be it actual enemy forces, nasty business conflicts or complex family problems. The "proper reaction" includes reflection, catharsis, acceptance, stepping away from external stimuli, and questioning the legitimacy of fear. To quote Sec Def Mattis, "emotional contemplation… allows you to reconcile the human aspect with the more mechanical aspects of our actions, the things we're required to do. It brings you to a more balanced place to carry out the mission."
Part four, "Courage", instructs us how to carry out that mission. It encourages the reader to never give up, reminds us that we're never really alone and that fighting for what's right in the face of what's wrong is the only option for leaders. We learn that courage is almost impossible unless one is connected with core values. These help us determine for which and for whom we are willing to risk personal harm. An effective leader also understands how to pass on their moral courage to their subordinates. The key to passing on courage is to go one step beyond personal values, which is to understand and connect yourself to your followers' values. Want to inspire courage in others? Spend time with them, understand them, fight for each other's shared values.
The argument woven throughout the entire book is that in order to gain clarity, to recognize the unseen, to maintain balance and to practice courage requires productive solitude. Solitude creates the personal space that allows leaders to recharge and reflect so that they can serve others more effectively.
I couldn't agree more. So, do you have a practice of productive solitude? Heck no! Everyone's busy, right? Who has time for solitude when there are bills to be paid, hobbies to enjoy and social events to attend? And I'm not making fun- all of those are certainly important. But here's reality: if you're not making a habit of practicing solitude, you are probably not maximizing your clarity, you're probably not able to see beyond near-term issues enough to find creative solutions to real problems, you're probably not balanced enough to properly evaluate what's going on around you and worst of all- you might be robbing yourself of the ability to be morally courageous when the time comes to negotiate the obstacles of life.
Want to improve as a leader? Start with yourself (know/seek out your values) and aim for clarity. It's likely that you'll find the conviction and balance required to be brave.
The authors present a compelling case for solitude's benefits. In contrast to most discussion of leadership today, which consists largely of empty platitudes ("think outside the box") and buzzwords ("forward-thinking"), the authors explain in concrete terms how solitude can serve the qualities that define leadership. For instance, they tell the story of how Eisenhower's practice of distilling his thoughts into memos helped him to identify the key variables in planning the D-Day invasion, and ultimately make a decision amid complex and changing facts on the ground (and, as it turned out, in the skies). Although many of the stories involve famous leaders in high positions, the qualities the authors discuss are so universal that anyone can find something of value in the book. On top of all that, the book is a pleasure to read. The stories are interesting and diverse. And the writing is clear and powerful. In all, the authors' own stated commitment to solitude is readily apparent in the extent to which the book exemplifies the virtues they discuss. Highly recommended.
This book gives you permission to be deliberately engaged with yourself. The analysis is spot on. It has given me a ton to think about and I know I will be implementing a number of lessons learned moving forward.
Top international reviews
Somehow the author lets their politics spill into their writing in such a way to continually distract the reader from the main point of the material.
It’s a real shame, with a sensible editor it could have been a good book.