I am preparing to teach Christian School International’s annual Principal Development Institute (PDI) at the end of this month, and as I work through the curriculum and reflect on what advice I would give to these school leaders (or any leader of people, for that matter), I always come back to one practice. Solitude.
In a world that is beset with the urgent, where every minute is seemingly bombarded by tweets and sensational news stories, as organizational budgets scream out in pain for lack of revenue and our minds are numbed by the day-to-day, establishing a pattern of solitude is a must.
I remember advice I received when I took over command of a flying squadron during my time in the USAF. In a private meeting with my boss prior to the assumption-of-command ceremony, he advised me to close the door of my office for 30-60 minutes a day, to read and reflect, to think the big thoughts about the future of the organization, and to refresh my mind. If I didn’t, he went on to say, I would be overcome by the daily minutia and never get my head above water and really change the squadron’s future trajectory.
There are numerous examples of the importance of the practice of solitude throughout Scripture: Moses in the wilderness, Nehemiah in the night hours, and, of course, Jesus, who practiced the discipline of solitude throughout his earthly ministry. Jesus models this for us by spending 40 days in the wilderness, praying and fasting, before starting his ministry. Before Jesus selected his disciples, he spent the night alone in prayer. After ministering to over five thousand people, Jesus retreated to the hills to be by himself.
The key is to set yourself up in a place to be alone with God, uninterrupted by the day-to-day rhythms that dull your ability to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit as you mediate on God’s Word. Turn off the phone, the computer, pull the blinds, lock the door, and tell your staff to not disturb you for the next hour. Better yet, put it on your schedule so your staff can see what you are doing and learn from your lead! Imagine the creativity that will spread through your organization when an entire staff practices the discipline of solitude, and they open themselves up to the creativity of the Holy Spirit! Your most creative thinking will not happen during times of stress and battle, when you can only react to the endless stream of challenges. Your best ideas will come out of times of solitude and uninterrupted reflection.
But how do I fit this into my busy schedule?
Every leadership book and blog reminds us that time is and will be your most precious resource and one that must be guarded. Everything you do requires time. Famed leadership guru Peter Drucker states that leaders do not start with tasks; they start with their time. Quite simply, make the time. Carve it out of your daily routine. You will gain back the hour by the resulting clarity and focus.
I challenge you to do this. Do it now. Put aside the excuses and get alone with God.
– Joel Westa