A leader is never alone, but that doesn’t mean they can’t feel isolated. For some, loneliness and solitude are the essence of leadership, but sometimes loneliness can be the heavy, emotional opposite of solitude.
The ability to exploit a period of solitude for your benefit is considered a meta-skill because it’s a prerequisite for developing other leadership abilities. Studies have shown that leaders and individuals alike can benefit from practicing “creative solitude.” A crucial insight for any leader is to distinguish between feelings of loneliness (that should be replaced with a positive attitude) with periods of solitude, which are essential for success. A leader must create new ideas, innovate, challenge the status quo, envision a better future and take the initiative to make it all happen. While doing this, loneliness, rather than solitude, can emerge.
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Solitude contributes to becoming introspective, a necessary emotion that helps to reason and clarify who you are, who you want to be, where you currently are and where you want to go. Even when a leader succeeds, they can sometimes feel like an actor on stage when the lights go out. You should stay humble and not be tempted by ego.
You need to be alone when you stand on that imaginary balcony; looking at life from a distance and reality from a fresh, new angle. Solitude is also necessary when you want to challenge constraints such as “established truths,” “sacred cows” and “taboos.”
You will feel alone when your values, integrity, honesty and transparency come face-to-face with dishonesty, opportunism and arrogance. You will feel alone when the inspirations, ideals and values that you hold dear are confronted with mediocrity and inertia. Ultimately, you must sometimes feel alone to think about a better world and how to succeed.
A leader can also experience loneliness when being strict with loved ones, controlling emotions and keeping oneself at a distance. Loneliness can be felt when giving positive messages to others while feeling anxiety and uncertainty yourself. A true leader will feel alone in their failures and frustrations when instead, they should be seen as learning opportunities from which you gain strength and achieve long-term goals.
A leader is initially alone at the outset. Like an explorer or a navigator, a leader responds to a call of urgent need and takes responsibility for it. This does not prevent you from surrounding yourself with upstream and downstream advisers to help, but the person who brings the project to realization is the leader.
If leaders rely too much on others, they will inevitably be disappointed, yet if you disregard others, they will not get very far. My advice is to go “with” others but not “count” on them at first. This strategy allows things to move forward and lessens the disappointment of waiting around for projects to begin. At this early stage, a leader should not seek results or recognition but instead focus on the symbolic gesture of moving ahead and any small successes along the way. For a real leader, the purpose of the journey is the journey itself – a vision that doesn’t wait for the future, with everything playing out in the present.
A leader has a private life too, and has family and friends. Champions are not made without an active network of support that feeds their individual performance. A leader is nothing without the support of a team, sponsors or family.
Most leaders harbor doubts, like most of us, and we should be allowed to share these doubts with others. You will need confidence in knowing that situations will always resolve themselves. This trust in the process is without any real-world basis – a confidence of nature that cannot be rationalized easily. Faith in a mission takes hold among those around you by “viral contamination” and is directly associated with feelings of loneliness and solitude.
Just as we are always naked under our clothes, a leader is aware of being alone even when clothed with those around them. Yet, they are happy about this because they don’t allow their existence to be determined by others – you are “by and for” yourself.
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A leader is happy that people benefit from what they do, but that’s not necessarily the primary motivation of a leader.
Like the sun that always shines above the clouds or an artist’s passion, driven more by inspiration than by seducing the buying public, a leader draws on a constant realization of self – acting for themselves, but without any selfishness. A leader does not need followers to begin either; a leader will go there anyway, with or without you. They find support first and foremost within themselves. If you want to follow them realize that they’ve already departed on their own journey – the one of a pioneer.
Many leaders have an outgoing, entrepreneurial spirit but are also people of inner reflection. This characteristic demonstrates autonomy to others but also runs the risk of loneliness for a leader.
Here are six tips to help remedy the situation.
- Recognize that sometimes you need a quiet space to put your thoughts in order. Schedule time for “mental breathers” during chaotic work days.
- Make your time of solitude an exciting one, this is a chance to think clearly without any distractions. Prepare an agenda on how you intend taking advantage of your time alone. Take a notebook, listen to music or just listen to the leaves moving. Close all your devices and enjoy the moment.
- Make a conscious effort to understand the difference between solitude and loneliness. You’ll experience both, but negative feelings around loneliness can seriously affect you and make your leadership role miserable.
- Introspection, self-observation, self-analysis and self-reflection help us listen to our inner voice. It can inspire and clarify our values, help us understand the purpose of life and solve internal conflicts by synchronizing heart and mind.
- Creative thinking and wise judgments are reinforced by positive solitude. Avoiding everyday duties and obligations for even a short while puts you into a world of imagination and creative thinking, free of judgment.
- Solitude contributes to our resilience, mental renewal and rehabilitation. We face daily tensions, unpleasant situations, defeats and disappointments of all kinds. These can negatively affect our mental and spiritual health. As we seek refuge in a storm, so too do we need a safe harbor in life to relax and rejuvenate. Solitude can be this harbor.
Positive thoughts are crucial to fight loneliness. An ability to change the narrative in your head is critical. Even if you feel abandoned in the face of a leadership challenge, remember that there will always be someone who will listen. When you feel the weight of loneliness, think of the benefits of working solo (see your glass half full not half empty). Loneliness and solitude is part of a leaders life and not a reason to become a martyr, finishing alone and abandoned by everyone.
Don’t forget yourself in the bigger quest and cultivate relationships with others without losing sight of your goals. Take care of yourself and you’ll see that your business will become stronger.