Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude by Raymond M. Kethledge & Michael S. Erwin

(New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), 191

Insights or things to take up

  • walks for solitude
  • Writing as a way of organizing your thoughts

Definitions of leadership

  • "the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it" - Eisenhower (xiii)

Introduction (Jim Collins)

  • Solitude provides leaders with clarity, creativity, emotional balance, and moral courage
  • disciplined time for reflection leads to disciplined thought, which leads to disciplined action
  • get away to make decisions:
    • Churchill at Chartwell laying bricks
    • Gates on his "think week"
    • Buffett: "inactivity can be a very intelligent behavior" (xv)
  • 2 key practices:
    • systematically build solitude into your life ("white space")
    • seize unexpected opportunities for solitude (waiting in line)
  • what makes leaders great is a "paradoxical combination of humility and will in service to a cause bigger than the personal ambitions of that leader" (xvi)


  • to lead others you must first lead yourself
  • solitude: isolated from input of other minds
    • today this takes conscious effort, requiring both conviction and awareness

Chapter 1 - Clarity

  • "the foundation of clarity is an uncluttered mind" (4)
  • Peter Crawford: run at night with no light and just focus on his stride (6)
    • physical activity helps focus because we have only so much attention left over for thinking
  • keep a parenting journal (7)
  • Howard Prince: "leadership is about consensual interdependence. The leader chooses to depend on his followers, and the followers choose to depend on the leader." (12)
    • in Vietnam: "I'm scared shitless, and I presume you are too. Now that we have that out of the way, let's figure out what to do." (12-13)
  • self-awareness is important:
    • physical adversity strips you to the fundamentals (17)
    • reflecting on a journey home by sea gave the opportunity for self-awareness (17-18)
    • "after two days in the mountains I come back refreshed" (18)
  • Tommy Caldwell dropping his phone and it being the best part of climbing El Cap (21-23)

Chapter 2 - Eisenhower (Analytical Clarity)

  • analytical clarity requires strenuous thought: "break down complexity to a single point of decision"
  • "the most rigorous way to think about a subject is to write about it" (28)
  • book: Supreme Commander by Ambrose
  • Ike's process (38)
    • strip to essentials
    • extract a single point
    • make that point a guiding star in decisions

Chapter 3 - Jane Goodall (Intuition)

  • intuition rises from inductive reasoning (specific observations to general principle) (42)
    • analytical tends to be more deductive (general to specific) --> intuition can catch mistakes in analytical thinking

Chapter 4 - Creativity

  • creativity in three forms (54)
    • ignore conventions
    • new ideas
    • horizontal connections between seemingly unrelated topics
  • Chip Edens: "The grand invitation is to embrace the reality of your life and to figure out what to do with it...A revelation is the collision of information, intuition, and your highest values" (55)
  • environments of unconditioned response allow one's thoughts to be creative (56)
    • this is the opposite of the literal box of the cubicle
    • places like this include: church (inspire), car, shower, park
  • "parenting is the oldest form of leadership" (57)
  • Tim Hall's morning routine: coffee, sit, think, no electronic devices, watch the bird feeder (60)
    • "Create the right relationships, and you'll win." (61)

Chapter 5 - T.E. Lawrence ("of Arabia")

  • Lawrence of Arabia invented "insurgency" during WWI

Chapter 6 - Emotional Balance

  • judgment requires balancing competing interests, and you don't want emotion in the way (80)
  • Gen. Mattis brought his 1000-book library wherever he was deployed (81)
  • Sanyin Siang: "We need solitude during points of failure" (89-90)
    • even good leadership brings losses, and we need solitude to process these (91)

Chapter 7 - Lincoln (Acceptance)

  • unsent letter to Meade

Chapter 8 - Grant (Catharsis)

  • Grant: "A man who could be silent in several languages" (106)
  • he whittled to calm himself during the Battle of the Wilderness

Chapter 9 - Aung San Suu Kyi (Magnanimity)

  • she woke up (during house arrest) every morning at 4:30 to meditate

Chapter 10 - Moral Courage

  • leaders need introspection, Conant: "It's not that you need to be completely unplugged from the outside world. But you do need to be completely plugged in to what you think" (132)
    • 30 minute morning reflection with coffee in the garden thinking about 5 things: family, work, community, faith, personal well-being (132)
  • Jimmy Bartz: "Today, I still wake up at five thirty each morning, while the rest of the house is asleep. Fridays are my day off. I spend the whole day by myself until the kids come home from school." (138)
    • "As my responsibilities as a leader grow, I need more solitude...I go to Wyoming three times a year...maybe not crossing paths with another person for two or three days. It's a feast for the soul." (141)

Chapter 11 - Churchill

  • Churchill studied history, which gave him perspective. He saw himself acting in the sweep of history (148)
    • --> the struggles of the past give you hope and courage for the struggles of today
  • writing makes you think more deeply, but also feel more deeply, c.f. Churchill's empathy with the Czech people (150)

Chapter 12 - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Chapter 13 - John Paul II

  • Karol Wojtyła's dad's example "was in a way my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary" (169) ^fbec9c
    • this quote, and many others in this section come from Wigel's Witness to Hope
  • From his poem Material: "The whole greatness of this work dwells inside a man." --> we can find meaning even in awful work
  • every morning after mass and breakfast, he wrote for two hours alone in his chapel (171)