CHAPTER 1 - Clarity
Of all the decisions Dwight Eisenhower ever made as a leader, none was more important than his decision to launch the D-day invasion on June 6, 1944, rather than two weeks later.
there was a strong possibility that the weather would prevent any reinforcements from landing on June 7, in which case the troops who landed the day before might be pushed out to sea. But a decision to delay the invasion would have brought great risks of a different sort, not least that the Germans would find out where the Allies planned to land.
Eisenhower had to weigh all those risks, and choose between them. He did so only after obtaining—through deliberate effort—the greatest possible clarity as to which choice offered the best chance of success.
Concerns of the present tend to loom larger than potentially greater concerns that lie farther away.
A leader who silences the din not only around her mind, but inside it, can then hear the delicate voice of intuition, which may have already made connections that her conscious mind has not.
The most inspiring leaders are ones who find a clarity of meaning that transcends the tasks at hand.
The foundation of both analytical and intuitive clarity is an uncluttered mind.
Bill George, CEO of Medtronic Inc, author of the bestselling "True North", advocates that leaders reflect on their core values as a means of setting the vector of their leadership.
[quote, Bill George]
“A critical element of effective leadership is not to let the immediate take precedence over the important.
Today’s world puts too much emphasis on the immediate. That’s a perpetual danger for leaders.”
Around that time, however, George began a daily meditation practice, specifically transcendental meditation.
[quote, Bill George]
“I don’t know how TM works, but it does. TM allows you to slow down, to reflect. As a relaxation process, and a process for introspection, it couldn’t be better.”
The process of transcendental meditation is simple. The practitioner ideally meditates for two twenty-minute sessions per day, one before the workday and one near the end of it.
During each session, the practitioner seeks to focus exclusively on a “mantra” that he repeats over and over in his head.
The mantra itself is usually a word with no hard consonants and no inherent meaning to the practitioner. (“Ayam” is an example.)
What the practitioner usually finds, however, is that his mind repeatedly slips away from the mantra, to focus instead on different thought streams that spring up seemingly on their own.
These thoughts usually concern events that recently evoked some response from the practitioner: contentment, pride, joy, but more often feelings like anxiety, worry, or fear.
During those more negative thought streams, the practitioner’s heart rate might increase and he might literally feel nervous energy coursing through him. But that process—of focusing on the mantra, and then having it displaced by thought streams that are themselves driven by pent-up nervous energy—is a way of dissipating those thoughts and the nervous energy that goes with them.
This process—which practitioners call “purification”—might take more or less time during a meditation session, depending on how worked up the practitioner was when he began.
When the process is done, the practitioner feels a serenity, and a stillness, in which solitary insights—intuitions, really—sometimes stand out in stark relief, often before the meditation session is over. Afterward the practitioner is able to focus on what he wants to focus on, without a lot of background noise. That enhances a leader’s ability to analyze problems.
Peter Crawford, an executive at Schwab practice “walking meditation,” where, instead of focusing on a mantra, the practitioner seeks to focus exclusively on the physical act of walking—lifting one foot and then the other.
Liza’s description of what running does for her echoes Bill George’s description of what meditation does for him: “It’s a distilling process,” she says. “The detritus of daily living drops down, and I’m left with what’s important.” But the process itself is different: “A good part of your attention is consumed in the physical act. There’s only so much attention left over. That leads to focus.”
Retired Marine Corps General James Mattis makes the same point. “A physically vigorous life is not incompatible with a contemplative life,” he says. “The loss of nervous energy into a physical act creates a clarity of thinking.”
Peter Crawford writes memos to himself as a way of clarifying his thoughts. “I usually don’t send them to anyone. I’m just collecting my thoughts in a structured way.”
“Here’s the situation — here’s the challenge we face — here’s what we should do. It’s the McKinsey model of situation, complication, resolution.”
“I keep a parenting journal,” he says. “Initially, I just wanted to record cute, poignant moments so that I could remember them later. But I began to realize that I could use the journal to collect my thoughts as a parent, about troubles we’re having, tough decisions we’re facing. Parenting brings emotional highs and lows, anguish, questioning, second-guessing.”
Sarah Dillard: she records events that trigger an emotional response. “I color-code each entry,” she says. “Green means I felt good about it, red means I felt bad. Things that I’d do differently I code in purple.” Then, every Wednesday morning, she works at home for a few hours to review her entries without interruptions. “I’m making connections between things in my notes. And I’m reflecting on how we did. What things worked? What didn’t? I’m learning about how the team is performing.”
“I can’t imagine how someone doing a start-up wouldn’t do reflection,” she says. “In a start-up you have to learn fast, or it’s not going to work. Reflection is the key way to learn.
“in a start-up you’re going to encounter ‘unknown unknowns.’ You need to process and learn from those. Otherwise you won’t be clear about what happened.”
Nate Fick: “You have to structure in time for solitude, Otherwise you’re just reacting to other people’s thoughts, rather than driving the direction yourself.”
Fick: “I tell my assistant I need ninety minutes a day on my calendar to close the door and think,”
“I tell my subordinates that two days each month, no one has any meetings. Otherwise the days get so hectic that you have no time to process or to think. The only way to combat it, short of what Thoreau did, is structurally to build in the space.”
Fick accesses intuition during time he's alone. “That’s when stuff percolating in the subconscious crystallizes and takes form.”
“I often start a run thinking, ‘Here’s what I need to figure out.’ So I start thinking about that, and then after two minutes I’m off onto something else. But almost inevitably, by the time I’m done running, I’ll have circled back and finished my thinking about that issue. It was percolating the whole time.”
“Usually, what happens is that there is something that I’m struggling with—a strategic question, a presentation that I’m supposed to make, a conversation that I need to have, an organizational decision that I need to make. I don’t consciously think about it when I’m running, but an idea or the answer will suddenly pop into my head—either as I’m running or quite often soon after I finish. Things get cleared out in my head, so either the idea finds its way to the surface or the mechanics of my brain work better and are more easily able to process the problem in the background.”
Stanley McChrystal: “Solitude to me just means the chance to think,”
“It doesn’t need to be a quiet place. It just has to be in a place where I can allow my mind to focus on something.”
“Technology has brought changes to leadership. The barrier to entry to contact leaders is so low now, with e-mail. I don’t want to be rude to people. And responding to emails can make you feel like you’re getting a lot done. But when you’re doing that you’re not taking time to think.”
“Sometimes I have to think about a problem in several steps. Solitude lets me play that out. It lets me remind myself about what’s important.”
“I do benefit from hearing other people’s thoughts. I might have an initial reaction, but my values might not always govern my initial response. It’s better if I don’t make the decision then. It’s better to marinate in that information and make the decision later,” he says. “If I spend some time in solitude thinking about it, I find that I circle back to my values.
“When I was a regimental commander, before the wars, we came up with a plan after working all night,” he recalls. “We were invested in it. All the staff analysis had been done. Then I slept for a few hours, woke up, and realized the plan was crap. I had provided the guidance, and the analysis went from there. But my intuition told me it was wrong.”
His experience illustrates that intuition requires a degree of mental quietude. “In the moment, I’m responding to stimuli,” he says. “Later, my values reassert themselves through intuition. And if the analysis or recommendation doesn’t feel right, I go with my intuition. Solitude brings that out.”
Howard Prince: “leadership is about consensual interdependence. The leader chooses to depend on his followers, and the followers choose to depend on the leader.
That means, even in the military, you can’t just command people. Leaders have to transform themselves from being just a commander or boss to a leader. A leader interacts with his followers, gets them to believe that this person is worth following, that he’s going someplace and I want to go there too.”
Prince says that the “stereotyping of leaders” creates a bias against solitude.
There’s also an action bias: ‘Do something!’ Sometimes it’s more important to stop and get your wits together.”
“I needed to talk to them. Really talk to them.
Prince said, “Hey, guys, what’s going on?”
For a while nobody answered. Then one of the enlisted men said, “Sir, we think you’re going to get us all killed tomorrow so you can get a medal.”
Prince recalls, “Then it clicked. I knew what to do.” Part of effective leadership is knowing your audience, and at this moment Prince knew his. “They were used to looking for the enemy in thick vegetation, in single file.“
“It goes back to consensual interdependence,” Prince says. “The problem was the information they didn’t have. I needed to lead them, not command them.”
because of incompetence or ambition, the officer would get “fragged”: someone would roll a live grenade into his tent in the middle of the night. Prince says, “If I had gone over and yelled at them and used command authority, I’m convinced I would’ve been fragged during the night before the attack.”
A leader should strive for clarity not only about the challenges he faces but about himself
Fick sees “a distinction between self-awareness and self-consciousness.”
The latter Fick sees as something to be wary of: a mindset that is focused outward, which can lead to posturing and decisions based on how others will perceive them.
On the contrary, with self-awareness the mindset is fundamentally introspective.
One way to gain self-awareness is through physical adversity.
Liza Howard: “Physical suffering strips you down to the bare fundamentals. It humbles you.“
Peter Crawford: “Hiking up there strips away all the ornamentation of everyday life. When you strip down to the fundamentals is when you reveal character, and forge it.”
Another way to obtain self-awareness is through reflection.
Bill George: “to process your life story. You need to reflect on the crucibles of your life and how you dealt with them. Those experiences can teach you about your character, and things you can try to improve.”
Susan Cain: “I never feel like solitude is something I do consciously,”
“I just naturally do it to seek a state of homeostasis.”
“introverts usually don’t want to be leaders just for the sake of being a leader. The status, the attention, aren’t things that most introverts put a lot of value on. When introverts are leaders, it’s usually because the work they’re doing is really important to them.”
Tommy Caldwell: “Without the phone, I was able to sit and contemplate,” he says. “Each day there are only a handful of hours that are good for climbing. When I wasn’t climbing, I sat there looking out at the mountains from two thousand feet up. Reflecting on what the climb meant. Solitude is such a powerful force. It’s spiritual to me.”
CHAPTER 2 - Analytical Clarity Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1944
[quote, DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER]
“Make big decisions in the calm.”
The hardest-earned kind of clarity is analytical clarity. Unlike intuitive clarity—which arises more from mental quietude than from strenuous effort—analytical clarity arises from rigorous syllogistic thought. And that kind of thinking—because of its difficulty, and its glacial pace—is best done, and perhaps only done, in solitude.
The process is one of breaking down complexity to a single point of decision. The leader must first identify, as clearly and precisely as he can, the goal he seeks to achieve or the problem he seeks to solve.