It’s my 100th post! Yay!
A couple months ago, Brenda Goodrich (I hope she doesn’t mind me using her name) posted an article on Facebook and said that she thought everyone should read it. I read just about every article on the internet so I went ahead and read it. It was super interesting to me and I think it gave me some new perspective on things I already knew, but had forgotten.
Its actually a speech by William Deresiewicz given at West Point called “Solitude and Leadership“. I love the idea of leadership and what it takes to be a leader. Why? Because you can’t be taught how to be one. You can break down what a leader does, but just because we do those things doesn’t make us a leader. It seems to me that people who try to imitate leaders just end up being managers, going through the motions in order to get what they want instead of leading others for their benefit. Hugh Nibley talks more about that in his talk “Leaders to Managers: The Fatal Shift” (another favorite talk of mine).
Deresiewicz is basically talking to the cadets about how they need some solitude in their life in order for them to become leaders. He asks them “Does being a leader, I wondered, just mean being accomplished, being successful? Does getting straight As make you a leader? I didn’t think so. Great heart surgeons or great novelists or great shortstops may be terrific at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they’re leaders.” He hits a couple of different ways we can find that solitude and explains how and why they are important. Towards the end of the speech he sums up those points, saying:
“So solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading. All of these help you to know yourself better. But there’s one more thing I’m going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship.”
My friend Corbin wrote a blog post about some of the things he learned from Deresiewicz’ speech. He closes the post with a quote from the speech that explains how friendship is a form of solitude:
“Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is talking to another person you can trust, 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.”
Finding that solitude, whether being alone with your thoughts in the wilderness vision quest style (Jesus, Moses, every Old Testament prophet basically) or whether you are sharing them with someone you trust–who isn’t trying to be perceived as anyone except who they really are–is vital for us becoming the best people we can be. To be excellent in our life. To not just be “professional hoop jumpers” that seek to please others and get gain by doing so, but to raise others up to a higher level of living.
Hugh Nibley in a speech to BYU students defines a little bit of what a leader and leadership is and how it is applicable to every single part of our lives:
“On the other hand, leadership is an escape from mediocrity. All the great deposits of art, science, and literature from the past, on which all civilization has been nourished, come to us from a mere handful of leaders. For the qualities of leadership are the same in all fields, the leader being simply the one who sets the highest example; and to do that and open the way to greater light and knowledge, the leader must break the mold. “A ship in port is safe,” says Captain Hopper speaking of management, “but that is not what ships were built for,” she says, calling for leadership.
To quote one of the greatest of leaders, the founder of this institution [Brigham Young], “There is too much of a sameness in this community. . . . I am not a stereotyped Latter-day Saint and do not believe in the doctrine . . . away with stereotyped ‘Mormons’!” Good-bye all. True leaders are inspiring because they are inspired, caught up in a higher purpose, devoid of personal ambition, idealistic, and incorruptible.”
A leader is someone that is “caught up in a higher purpose, devoid of personal ambition, idealistic, and incorruptible.” This is how the introspection leads you to become a leader. Because you ask yourself the hard questions. You wonder why you do the dumb things you do and you think about how to fix or how to stop them. You think back to the things you were taught when you were younger and how you have deviated from them. You find yourself and who you want to be and you figure out how to get there.
Without that solitude, the chances of you achieving those things are slim. Deresiewicz addresses this issue:
So it’s perfectly natural to have doubts, or questions, or even just difficulties. The question is, what do you do with them? Do you suppress them, do you distract yourself from them, do you pretend they don’t exist? Or do you confront them directly, honestly, courageously? If you decide to do so, you will find that the answers to these dilemmas are not to be found on Twitter or Comedy Central or even in The New York Times. They can only be found within—without distractions, without peer pressure, in solitude.
Do we marinate ourselves with meaningless information to the point that we are so distracted that we can’t look at our inner selves and in turn make ourselves better?
Find those friends that are honest. You know what I mean when I say that people try to be perceived as someone other than who they really are. We all do it. We all try to be perceived as caring, loving, nurturing. Or sometimes we like to be seen as tough. Or educated. Or sometimes we like to be seen as jerks or rude, when we really aren’t that way. We need those friends whose way of being allows them to see us like people, with real emotions, feelings, wants and needs. We don’t need friends whose way of being leads them to treat us as obstacles, or vehicles to get what they want or just irrelevant in every way.
When we find those honest people, we can surround ourselves with them. Then we can start the introspection, the “thinking outloud” as Deresiewicz puts it. Having that honest person to bounce thoughts off of is important because then we can be truly honest with our thoughts and we won’t need to fear being embarrassed or scared of what that person’s reaction might be.
Talking to someone you trust about your most deepest, most honest thoughts is that solitude that leads us to be leaders — people who care about others genuinely — not managers — those that are “professional hoop jumpers”.
Deresiewicz ends his speech to the cadets by saying:
“You need to know, already, who you are and what you believe: not what the Army believes, not what your peers believe (that may be exactly the problem), but whatyou believe.
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.”
A true leader knows who he/she is, knows what their values and morals are and lives for the betterment of others. You need that solitude to find out those things for yourselves. That solitude will let you take “counsel with yourself”. Just because you go to that place of solitude doesn’t mean you stay there. To stay there would mean you only care for yourself. To go there, learn and then come back to society to make it better, is what a true leader does.