If you want to be a successful leader of people, take time away from them.

This is the counter-intuitive advice given by Yale’s William Deresiewicz, who, in an address to West Point students entitled Leadership and Solitude, focused on the importance of taking time to be alone. He says solitude gives burgeoning leaders the opportunity to discover their own stand on issues and ensures they don’t just parrot those of others. In addition to the need for solitary introspection, he also recommends discovering yourself by talking to a trusted friend. Here’s an excerpt from his address:

Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person. One other person you can trust, one other person to whom you can unfold your soul. One other person you feel safe enough with to allow you to acknowledge things—to acknowledge things to yourself—that you otherwise can’t. Doubts you aren’t supposed to have, questions you aren’t supposed to ask. Feelings or opinions that would get you laughed at by the group or reprimanded by the authorities.

This is what we call thinking out loud, discovering what you believe in the course of articulating it. But it takes just as much time and just as much patience as solitude in the strict sense. And our new electronic world has disrupted it just as violently. Instead of having one or two true friends that we can sit and talk to for three hours at a time, we have 968 “friends” that we never actually talk to; instead we just bounce one-line messages off them a hundred times a day. This is not friendship, this is distraction.

How can you know that unless you’ve taken counsel with yourself in solitude? I started by noting that solitude and leadership would seem to be contradictory things. But it seems to me that solitude is the very essence of leadership. The position of the leader is ultimately an intensely solitary, even intensely lonely one. However many people you may consult, you are the one who has to make the hard decisions. And at such moments, all you really have is yourself.

If you need to dialogue with another person about the issues in your firm, whether you’re in a leadership position now or in the future, consider talking to an Atticus® Practice Advisor who can be a knowledgeable, unbiased partner in your efforts to realize your full leadership potential.

Read the entire speech at The American Scholar.

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