This is an excerpt from The Simple Leader: Personal and Professional Leadership at the Nexus of Lean and Zen
Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty, unfamiliar and perilous….
– Thomas Mann
We have become used to a world that floods our senses and keeps us entertained 24/7. Think back to a time before radio and TV, perhaps even before books. Besides working to increase the population, what did people do? They thought, and pondered, and created new ideas. They learned about others and themselves. In the modern world, we’ve lost some of that ability, and we need to make a conscious effort to get it back.
When we’re alone, with just ourselves and when not overtly meditating, our thoughts gel and reassemble into priorities and actionable concepts. What used to be a jumble begins to make sense. Conflicting priorities give way to clear direction. Seemingly insurmountable obstacles are put in their proper perspective. Most of us have experienced this, either alone or perhaps when our team is at an offsite meeting (in solitude as a team).
As I described in the introduction, the power of solitude was my first experience with Zen. In the midst of personal and profes- sional chaos, I flew myself to Hawaii on a few hours notice, and just sat on a beach. I breathed
in the fragrant air, listened to the birds and waves, and had a glass of wine by myself. My thoughts slowed, my priorities realigned, and I reconnected with myself.
Lately, I’ve found I can obtain the same benefit by driving with the radio off, taking a walk on the nearby beach, or even just sitting on the porch in the morning. Alone, just my thoughts and me.
Embrace solitude as an intentional part of your leadership routine. Take your daily commute with the radio turned off, or go for a weekly walk on an empty beach. Find a place to be alone, even if it is just a few times a year while on vacation (many executives plan a couple days alone at the end of business trips). The more frequently you make solitude part of your leadership habits, the more settled and aligned your thoughts will be. In addition to having it be part of your personal routine, consider ways to make solitude a part of your team’s dynamics, such as via offsite meetings.