“Solitude is one of the most important necessities of true leadership” quipped William Deresiewicz in a lecture to West Point students. One might say that truer words were never spoken, however I might add that Moses happened to be a great leader, but also a terrible navigator. Taking my own experience with leadership and those who portray themselves as such, I would add my own insight here and say that without truly profound and deeply moving life experiences, one can never actually become a true leader in every sense of the word.
Back in 2008 I moved to Tel Aviv, after making a hard break from the restaurant business in order to create a new life and try and find a new direction. Well it took a while, but it wasn’t until I befriended a group of injured war veterans that I truly became aware of what leadership was, and that even with having had the experience of managing a staff of 12 employees for a number of years, and running my own business, I had in fact possessed very few of the qualities of a true leader at all.
Imagine you are driving on routine patrol and your convoy is hit by an IED, severing the legs of your passenger and killing two others right alongside you. How would surviving a very real experience like this affect you? How would you use having been through an experience like this for the good of others, and what course would your life take after something like this? Put a situation like this into perspective, an event that many of my friends in this group of veterans actually experienced. All of those guys are still around, still support one another, and have used their traumatic experience to become true leaders in both business and in life. I chose to learn from them, and strengthen my resolve to become a better leader and a better person overall.
We all have office meetings with contentious brokers, bankers, tenants and the such all the time, some more emotional and fiery that others, but one thing I can clearly say is that there are those who take meetings like these personally, have never had the privilege of meeting veteran friends like mine, and have positively zero chance of being an effective leader. If you don’t have perspective you cannot be realistic about any negotiation considering that as military blogger Ram Charan puts it “realism happens to be the mid-point between optimism and pessimism, and the degree to which you tend toward one or the other has a particularly powerful effect on your use of the know-hows.”
Now I’m not saying go out and do something grandiose to prove a point, but what I am saying that if you are fortunate enough to have in your background an experience like I did in having connected to these injured veterans, you do in fact have the ability to channel such an experience into becoming a true leader with important perspective on life and business. You will in fact be able to get through an economic downturn, face a bitter tenant or broker, survive the collapse of a negotiation….or far far worse.