I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.
Henry David Thoreau
Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.
In our last BLOG we examined Flow (part 2 of 2), the state of peak performance that Maslow said was the “dividend” for being more self-actualized. In this entry I would like to explore the final attribute of Actualized Leaders, Solitude, and why it’s so important for our ongoing growth and development.
Let’s start by defining Solitude:
An intentional state of seclusion and disconnection from others that allows for reflection, planning, and renewal.
Maslow found that self-actualizing individuals transcend the normal need of affirmation, approval, and company of others. In fact, he found that “self-actualizers” enjoy and prefer solitude and privacy more than the average person. This is not to say that they do not develop deep, personal relationships and friendships. They do, but they tend to have a smaller group of true friends, as opposed to a wide net of social acquaintances.
Solitude is not loneliness
Now that we’ve defined Solitude, let’s examine what it is not. It is not loneliness. Although you are alone, Solitude allows you to connect with yourself and your sense of purpose. For Actualized Leaders, it is a much sought-after place that allows for contemplation, reflection, and planning, as opposed to feeling alone or lonely.
The influential author and researcher Stephen Covey’s “7th Habit” – Sharpening the Saw – is reflected in this “time away” that is absolutely critical for improving and sustaining high performance. In Covey’s view, our usual approach to personal effectiveness is to continue to “saw” or work furiously to try and complete your task. A more enlightened approach, and a “habit” of highly effective people, is to step back, pause, reflect, and “sharpen the saw,” so that your project, goal, or objective is accomplished more efficiently and with greater ease.
Solitude and leadership
Grant Thornton CEO Mike McGuire credits solitude with being a crucial part of his routine, and his success. “Solitude is a must-have, not a nice-to-have, for me. Leaders must have uninterrupted time alone, with no distractions, in order to frame decisions, analyze problems, and reflect on opportunities in the appropriate strategic mindset to make the best, long-term decisions.” But more than just examining current or pressing issues, solitude also allows for reflection and intentional planning. McGuire continues, “Every week I plan and schedule time to be alone to reflect. Saturday mornings are my time to focus my energy on not just solving problems in the present, but for looking ahead into the future for larger opportunities. A critical by-product for me is that the more time I spend in solitude over the weekend, the more present I am with my team during the work week.”
Embracing solitude in your life
Clearly, there are numerous benefits for spending time alone. We are more reflective and more strategic, and we gain the benefit of renewing our energy, passion, and purpose. Tragically, however, we have more excuses to avoid solitude today than any other generation. With the swipe of a finger we can be instantly connected to our friends to see who’s had a bad day, who’s on vacation, and what others are having for dinner. If we aren’t willing to disconnect, we may miss our one opportunity to truly connect with our passion and our purpose.
Carl Sandburg said that, “One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude.” It is my hope that you will make spending time alone a part of your routine and in doing so, discover the wonderful secret that Solitude holds for all of us: when you embrace the “down time” of being alone, you will actually accomplish more with less effort and greater passion. And when we approach Solitude with reflective intention, it becomes the place where we discover that we are not alone.