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Brian Tolle Headshot

The Silent Leader

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It's easy to define leadership in terms of how one needs to act. Leaders are decisive; they take action. But what do great leaders draw upon when making their decisions? I believe an observation Margaret Thatcher shared during her taped tribute to Ronald Reagan at his funeral provides us with a key insight. She described what made him a great president in her opinion.: "Ronald Reagan knew his own mind, he had firm principles, and I believe right ones, he expounded them clearly, he acted upon them decisively."

You notice she started her statement with "he knew his own mind." That is not always the case with people in leadership positions. They seem to sway with public opinion, whether in the business or political realms. Their sense of leadership seems to come from more of an appearance of leadership than a belief in fundamental values and principles, expressed in their words, actions, and decisions. How does one come to know one's own mind? Simply and laboriously, through education, trial, reflection, and meditation, whether religious or secular. And the primary conditions for thoughtfulness are silence and stillness.

That's why our societal preference for the extroverted life for shaping our leaders troubles me. Our culture bombards them with expectations of who and what they should or need to be. Is it any wonder we end up with a polished surface and a hollow center?

In the business world, we need individuals who carve out quality time in their busy lives to go deeper than their ability to get things done. They need to reflect profoundly on the meaning of human endeavor and enterprise; the role of accountability and personal responsibility; their philosophy regarding mediocrity, in themselves and others; the dignity of hard work; the bounds of human potential; the very nature of the human spirit and creativity. All are necessary to know one's own mind.

It is only through silence and stillness that we can come to our thoughts in any meaningful way and from that spring take action we think best. Sadly we have banished solitude. There is no time to think, alone, intimately with who we are at our core. And our peril lies-in-waiting when we dismiss what Margaret Thatcher espouses in the movie The Iron Lady:

Watch your thoughts for they become words, watch your words for they become actions, watch your actions for they become habits, watch your habits for they become your character, watch your character for it becomes your destiny. What we think we become.