Tag: leadership

Life & Philosophy

Solitude and leadership

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via giphy

A lot of people think thinkers can’t be leaders. But that’s exactly what leadership is: thinking. The leader of a group takes what they read and hear internally and externally and originates his/her own thought. They speak for themselves. As former Yale professor and best-selling author William Deresiewicz said in his 2009 speech to West Point cadets:

“If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts.”

It’s lonely at the top because being the boss requires a lot of independent reflection and focus. Leadership also takes courage, as saying what is unpopular or unknown makes other people uncomfortable. People wish for the status quo as much as they seek certainty.

Being a leader precludes following. The problem is that some of the world’s leaders continue to jump through hoops like “excellent sheep” to get to where they are. They go to Ivy League schools and get straight A’s and go on to become CEOs and lawyers where they keep the usual routine going.

“Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Jumping through hoops. Getting along by going along.”

Success, therefore, is that which appeases others more than it leads. Some of the most educated people choose to chase the herd. On the other hand, real leaders embrace complexity. Deresiewicz uses US General David Petraeus as the apotheosis of a great leader.

“What makes him a thinker—and a leader—is precisely that he is able to think things through for himself. And because he can, he has the confidence, the courage, to argue for his ideas even when they aren’t popular. Even when they don’t please his superiors. Courage: there is physical courage, which you all possess in abundance, and then there is another kind of courage, moral courage, the courage to stand up for what you believe.”

So, how does one think well?

Thinkers concentrate. Thinkers avoid multitasking, distractions, and the tendency to ape the thoughts and opinions of other people. Like philosophers, they search for their originality and tools that will help guide their action.

“Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.”

Leaders require solitude. Isolation requires concentration. Silence means spending time in the canvass of your thoughts and not running away from denial on Facebook and Twitter. “Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality.” Mulling over thoughts, ideas and observations is a single task driven to achieve honesty with yourself.

“Climbing on that steamboat and spending a few uninterrupted hours hammering it into shape. Or building a house, or cooking a meal, or even writing a college paper, if you really put yourself into it.”

Thinking too, is a social act, not just with anyone but with people you trust. Says Deresiewicz, “One of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person.” Speaking your mind to a friend removes the friction of judgement and helps clarify your thoughts and opinions when they still need pruning.

Thinking is preparation. The more deeply you know about yourself, the easier it will be to react naturally to any situation, from the battlefield to major decisions at work or personal life. Solitude and leadership go hand in hand because when it comes to big decisions “all you really have is yourself.”

A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.” – Oscar Wilde

Read The American Scholar: Solitude and Leadership – William Deresiewicz

Business Creativity Tech

The case for playing the long game

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Jeff Bezos in 1990

Good things take time. If we all settled for immediate results, there would be no Apple, Amazon, or Tesla.

The world's best leaders are visionaries. They work years ahead, having planted the seeds for what's happening now to springboard them into the future.

When asked what he thinks when analysts congratulate him on a “good quarter”, Jeff Bezos said:

“Those quarterly results were fully baked three years ago. Today I'm working on a quarter that will happen in 2020, not next quarter. Next quarter is done already and it's probably been done for a couple years…If we have a good quarter it’s because of work we did 3, 4, 5 years ago. It’s not because we did a good job this quarter.”

Jeff Bezos

So what type of futurists should we be, the tortoise or the hare, the fox or the hedgehog?

Get ready to go years being misunderstood.

PS. Watch a young Jeff Bezos outline his vision for Amazon way back in 1997 right here.

Productivity & Work

Listen: Your Office’s Hidden Artists and How to Work with Them

It’s hard to think of yourself as an artist when you’re chained to a cubicle. But coders, designers, and CEOs can still think of themselves as artists in the sense that they too cherish their unique perspective and creativity.

The last thing an artist-worker wants to deal with is someone that sets a specific direction for a project without taking their input into consideration. Naturally, artists butt heads with the advertisers and marketers that try to commercialize (re: control) the experience or product.

All artists need to feel empowered. After all, it’s their work that gets reflected in the end.

HBR Podcast: “Your Office’s Hidden Artists and How to Work with Them

Bonus DialecticCreatives often disagree with other creatives. Just ask Rakim.

“Was signed to Aftermath, scheduled to release an album with my guy Dr. Dre. The album was dismantled because of creative differences. Thee end to the new beginning.”

Uncategorized

Dream Work

They say that if you pick something you love you never have to work a day in your life.

But doing what you love still comes with paperwork. Writers have to answer fan email and tweets. Star athletes have to give interviews when they’re not in the mood to talk.

Unfortunately, you can’t just play all the time. Success generates responsibility. People look up to you to lead. There will be struggles too. Some days you’re going to have to push your mind and body to move and create.

More success often means more work you don’t necessarily what to do. But a job is a mechanism for surviving, and that’s already hard enough.

Uncategorized

Imperial Overstretch

There's a reason countries like the US, Britain, and Rome collapse from preeminence: you can't do everything and be everything to everybody.

In addition to distracting you from priorities, taking on more than you can chew slows down your reaction time. When you finally do commit, the effort is either too late or half-assed.

Hegemony only lasts as long as there's real hard power, plus a strong will to be #1. Flexing your muscles signifies nothing.

There's nothing wrong with a fear of failure as long as the inherent goal is to do the world some good. Doing the right thing is all that matters. It's just that the best ideas fail to work out.

“Putinism is a bad idea that must be countered by a good one.”James Traub

Uncategorized

Opportunistic Myopia

Opportunities are everywhere, so you build up for them in preparation for the strike.

But in preparing for the ‘next thing’ you forget about right now, in this space and time.

How do you appreciate the present without getting obsessed with the future?

Self-service is obvious and ugly. It’s not all about you, it’s about the team you’re trying to help. The endeavor is a cohesive one rather than an individual one.

Sometimes great leadership requires selfishness. Someone’s got to lead the comeback or attempt that game-winning shot. But most of the time, your work requires that it help others too, and not just yourself.