Lead Yourself First

Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude

Solitude. It’s the secret sauce to leadership. But... In their great book Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin tells us: “Solitude is a state of mind, a space where you can focus on your own thoughts without distraction, with a power to bring mind and soul together in clear-eyed conviction. Like a great wave that saturates everything in its path, however, handheld devices and other media now leave us awash with the thoughts of others. We are losing solitude without even realizing it.” Big Ideas we explore include the big 4 of solitude (clarity + creativity + emotional balance + moral courage), the threats from our "Input Age," how MLK and Eisenhower used solitude, FOMO (get over it!) and how to change the world (starting with YOU!).


“To lead others you must first lead yourself. That, ultimately, is the theme of this book.

Leadership, as Dwight Eisenhower defined it, is ‘the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it.’ That does not mean that leadership amounts to using people; like anyone else, a leader must recognize that each person is an end in himself. It means, instead, to make others embrace your goals as their own. But to do that you must first determine your goals. And you must do that with enough clarity and conviction to hold fast to your goals—even when, inevitably, there are great pressures to yield from them. To develop that clarity and conviction of purpose, and the moral courage to sustain it through adversity, requires something that one might not associate with leadership. That something is solitude.”

~ Raymond M. Kethledge and Michael S. Erwin from Lead Yourself First

Solitude. It’s the secret sauce to leadership.

As Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin tells us: “Solitude is a state of mind, a space where you can focus on your own thoughts without distraction, with a power to bring mind and soul together in clear-eyed conviction. Like a great wave that saturates everything in its path, however, handheld devices and other media now leave us awash with the thoughts of others. We are losing solitude without even realizing it.”

Alexandra got this book for me after seeing it on Brené Brown’s reading list. It’s fantastic. I was especially excited to read it as I prepped for Conquering Digital Addiction 101.

Raymond Kethledge is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Michael Erwin is a graduate of West Point who served two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq and is now an assistant professor in psychology and leadership at West Point. Together they have written a brilliant, inspiring book on how to use solitude to become a better leader.

Jim Collins’s 4-page Foreword is so good I could create a Note just on THAT. I love the way he makes the case for the importance of solitude (and this book): “We live in a cacophonous age, swarming insects of noise and interruption buzzing about—emails, text messages, cable news, advertisements, cell phones, meetings, wireless Web connections, social media posts, and all the new intrusions invented by the time you are reading this. If leadership begins not with what you do but with who you are, then when and how do you escape the noise and find your purpose and summon the strength to pursue it? This book illustrates how leaders can—indeed must—be disciplined people who create the quiet space for disciplined thought and summon the strength for disciplined action. It is a message needed now more than ever, else we run the risk of waking up at the end of the year having accomplished little of significance, each year slipping by in a flurry of activity pointing nowhere. So take some quiet time, engage with this book, and commit to the hard work of alone time.”

If that sounds like fun, I think you’ll love the book. Get a copy here.

It’s a very thoughtful look at how leaders ranging from Dwight D. Eisenhower, Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence (aka of Arabia) to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jane Goodall have used solitude to find more clarity, creativity, emotional balance and moral courage. And, of course, how we can do the same.

It’s packed with Big Ideas and I’m excited to share a few of my favorites so let’s jump straight in!

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About the authors