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Solitude as a leadership skill

Tom Fox | August 6, 2017

I once heard Richard Nixon, when he was President, say in an interview how important it was for the President to have time to sit and think. He said one of the biggest lessons he had to learn in his early days as President was to delegate so that he could literally have an hour a day just to sit quietly and think. This was almost 50 years ago—well before the age of 24-hour news cycles and business operating on the same 24-hour schedule with worldwide operations, meetings, e-mail, text messages, and all the other forms of 2017 style communications.   

While perhaps not yet with the comprehensive authority of a U.S. president, the current day chief compliance officer is usually quite taken with putting out the daily fires of a multinational compliance program where a company has operations literally across the globe. The same holds true for any C-Suite executive of such an organization. I thought about Nixon’s long ago interview when I read about a recent book Lead Yourself First and a recent review about the book.

The authors, Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin, posit that leaders need to take back a sense of control over their operations. Not only is that important to a leader individually, but in the role as a leader of others. By doing so you can reduce the sometimes overwhelming information or even sensory overload that comes into your orbit. This allows for greater clarity and hopefully better decision making. Robert McNamara, when he was Secretary of State during the Kennedy Administration and helped lead the country into Vietnam, was famous for his ability to make multiple decisions on the fly, and look how that turned out for the country.

The authors also point out that while you can schedule some solitude, as Nixon did in the White House, you can also work it into your system when it becomes available. While it is not always possible to unplug in today’s connected world, taking some time to yourself to allow you to unwind and simply think can be a valuable part of any leader’s toolkit.