Why Great Leaders Need Time Alone

It's no secret that keeping in close touchwith your team is important. But as a leader, you shouldn't discount the value of makingtime to be alone so you canthink and reflect.

Scott Barry Kaufman, the scientific director of theUniversity of Pennsylvania's Imagination Institute, and Carolyn Gregoire, a senior writer at The Huffington Post, write in Harvard Business Review about how solitude helps drive creativity.

"Great thinkers and leaders throughout history--from Virginia Woolf to Marcel Proust to Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak--have lauded the importance of having a metaphorical room of one's own," Kaufman and Gregoire write. "But today's culture overemphasizes the importance of constant social interaction, due in part to social media. We tend to view time spent alone as time wasted or as an indication of an antisocial or melancholy personality."

Instead, the authors say, the desire to be alone should be considered healthy. Below, read their suggestionfor ensuringyou're able to block off sufficient time by yourself, and more detail onwhatthe benefits are.

Solitude crystallizes ideas

There is a time and place for working collaboratively. Being alone, on the other hand, must be valued just the same, especially if you need to be creative.Kaufman and Gregoire say that "it is often in solitary reflection that ideas are crystallized and insights formed." Coming up with those insights on your own just might help you save time and save face, they add, quoting famed writerIsaac Asimov:"Creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display."

Solitude is brain food

Scientific research has found that your brain needs solitude just like it needs social interaction. Disengagingfrom work projects and the goings-on around the officeis sometimes necessary when you're trying tofind meaning."When we're not focusing on anything in particular--instead letting the mind wander or dip into our deep storehouse of memories, ideas, and emotions--the brain's default mode network is activated,"Kaufman and Gregoire write. "Many of our most original insights arise from the activity of this network, or as we like to call it, the 'imagination network.'"

Respect quiet time

It's difficult to carve out time to be alone. One technique you might tryis to put phony meetings on your scheduleanduse the break to think. Meanwhile, as a leader youalso need to ensure your employees have their alone owntime to be quiet and think. Kaufman and Gregoire suggest you allowand show respect for remote working or nontraditional working styles. Just because you're not at your desk doesn't mean you're not getting things done. "Urge employees to take all of their vacation days," they write. "Having time for periodic rest and reflection will give your team the space to replenish their creative energy."


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