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Solitude and Leadership: Is It a Bad Thing?

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My boss used to go into the office at the crack of dawn. Her car would be the only one in the parking lot and her office was the only one with the light on. While I thought it was a little bit crazy, for her it was essential. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was the only time she got to think or work without interruptions. Of course, this meant that by the time I walked in, she was either brimming with creative ideas, constructive feedback, or follow up questions for me.

Of course, not everyone is so willing to seek out solitude. According to a Science Magazine study on the topic, it was found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think. In fact, most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.

Regardless, countless research studies have now proven that solitude and leadership go hand-in-hand. In the following article, you’ll learn more about the benefits of solitude, which are especially important if you are in a people management position.


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The Benefits of Solitude in Leadership

  • Encourages Creativity
    In a study conducted by a group of psychologists at SUNY Buffalo, it was found that people who were “unsociable” (those who sought out solitude) scored higher on creativity. According to one of the researchers, “unsociable people may not initiate interaction, but they also don’t appear to turn down social invitations from peers. Therefore, they may get just enough peer interaction so that when they are alone, they are able to enjoy that solitude.”

    In another study, this one conducted by the journal Nature Communications, it was found that “lonely people” are more likely to have increased activity in areas of the brain tied to reminiscing, thinking about others, and future planning. This is particularly interesting as both thinking about others and future planning are particularly important to those in leadership positions.

  • Reduces Stress
    It is not uncommon for work to be a source of stress. In fact, as of February 2021 the American Institute of Stress found that 40% of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful and 25% view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives. It might come as a relief then to learn that part of The Solitude Project, found that solitude could lead to relaxation and reduced stress when individuals actively chose to be alone. Which is to say, those in leadership can benefit from time alone to de-stress, practice mindfulness, and recuperate so they can then go forth and lead their employees to the best of their ability.

  • Increases Empathy
    Whether you sit at the executive table or supervise a team on the frontline, showing empathy and compassion to your employees can make all the difference. In fact, 92% of respondents in a study conducted by Businessolver said they’d stay with a company if their managers showed more empathy. Fortunately, a Harvard study found that a certain amount of solitude was found to make a person more capable of empathy towards others.

  • Gives You an Opportunity to Think Strategically
    Studies have found that 97% of senior businesspeople think that spending time on strategy is important, yet 96% cite a lack of time to actually do it. This might have something to do with the fact that leaders are typically running from place to place, task to task, and person to person all day, everyday.

    In which case, you might have to find creative ways to sneak in some solitude to your life. For example, opt for silence on your daily commute or lunchtime walk. Without the noise your mind can wander and reflect on questions such as, “Would I want me as a leader if I was an employee?” or “How could I have changed the outcome of that situation?” You may be surprised what conclusions and insights you can uncover even in a short amount of time when the world around you is silent.


Conclusion: A Word of Warning About Solitude and Leadership

Is solitude a bad thing? According to the research highlighted above, the answer is no; solitude is not a bad thing. In fact, solitude can make you a better, more well-rounded leader.

But before we conclude, you should be aware that it is important to strike the right balance when it comes to solitude. Too much of it and you may lose touch with the pulse of your team, which is key to optimizing your team’s performance and culture.

So, how do you strike the right balance? Start by trying to use this printable time-blocking template. First, you write in all your meetings. Next, you write in any personal appointments. This would be a good chance to pick an hour or so, depending on your workload and work day, to be alone. Be prepared to either shut your office door, relocate, or put the “Do Not Disturb” status on your computer, so you can settle in to either do some work, reflect on a situation, or strategize. Finally, you add in blocks to the time-block template to get anything else done, such as reviewing a document and providing feedback. This is just one one you can make solitude a part of your day as a leader!

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