Alone by Dr. Robert Gerwig

Photo by Author

“It’s lonely at the top.” This is an oft heard saying around the globe, regardless of organization type—corporate, military, political, church, athletic, civic, charitable, or academic. … Many people mistakenly think this saying came into existence because there aren’t many people at the top. I have a different view of the saying’s genesis—namely, it came into existence because leaders at the top are often—ALONE! (regardless of the number of people surrounding them physically).

Papakōlea Beach (also known as Green Sand Beach or Mahana Beach) is located in the Kaʻū district of the island of Hawaii. Unless you have a 4×4, it is a good five mile round trip hike along the southern shore of Hawaii. Why the interest in Papakōlea Beach? GREEN sand. Yep – GREEN! … It is one of the few beaches in the world that can boast of having green sand, the others being on Guam (seen it!) and the Galápagos’ Islands (wanna see it!). Papakōlea Beach is located in a bay half circled by Puʻu Mahana, a cinder cone (made from lava) that is rich in olivine. The beach’s green sands are due to the olivine crystals which have remained on the beach while the ash fragments are carried out to sea (free mini science lesson). … No matter how you cut it, a beach with green sand is pretty cool!

The day we hiked to Papakōlea Beach (no 4×4!), there were very few others around. Maybe it was the wind. Maybe it was the threatening skies. Regardless, not many people were out. … It reminded me a bit of other times out hiking Alone –in the Rocky Mountains, in the Smoky Mountains, in the Mojave Desert, in the Sonoran Desert, in the jungles of Guam, in the Amazon.

Leadership can be like hiking alone. Often is like that. … You look around and there aren’t many people. Look around again, and there’s no one, only you. Alone. … Sometimes Alone can be scary. Sometimes Alone can be exciting. Sometimes Alone can be frustrating. Sometimes Alone can be, well, lonely.

Many look at “leaders” and think they have it made. Fame, fortune, perks. Sometimes this is true. Often not. Why? Well, most of the time, true leaders (not those who only carry the title) are wrestling with big decisions, carrying unseen weights on their shoulders, etc.

When I feel Alone, I think about Jesus’ last days on earth. His time of great trial. Where were the disciplines in Jesus’ great hour of need? Sleeping. He was alone (humanly speaking). … Throughout history, great leaders have made tough decisions. They carry the burdens of the organization. Ultimately, they are responsible, accountable. Their decisions impact the lives and livelihoods of others – In war. In peace. In play. In business.

Some suggestions for those of you who are in positions of leadership:

  1. Develop friends outside your organization. They can provide balance and a different perspective.
  2. Pray. Meditate. Be still. Take a deep breath. Exhale.
  3. Remember that you are a leader to serve others. Take the job at hand (and its responsibilities seriously) but don’t take yourself too seriously.
  4. While you can’t delegate every action or decision, be careful not to isolate yourself from others or try to do all the work (or make all the decisions). You have a team for a reason. Use them.
  5. Remember that times of great action/decision often follow times of loneliness. Times of being Alone. … Jesus spent time in the wilderness. As did Moses, Paul, and others. Great military, business, athletic, academic, civic, political, charitable and church leaders often have moments of getting away. Being Alone. Reflecting. Meditation. Thinking things through (the strategy, the tactics, the impact). Remember that while you may be Alone, you’re joining a “club of loners.” All great leaders have experienced being Alone. It comes with the territory.

Seeing the green sands of Papakōlea Beach that day required being Alone. Worth it? Yes! A thousand times yes. … Your organization needs you. Needs your leadership. Needs your willingness to serve. Needs you to make good decisions. Needs you to put it on the line for them day after day. Tough? Yes. Lonely? Sometimes. Worth it? Always!

Don’t be afraid to be Alone. Use it as a time to be thankful for the opportunity you have to serve. Use it as a time to develop strength of character. Use it as a time to develop sound strategies/tactics. Use it as a time to make good decisions.

Have YOU experience times of loneliness as a leader?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

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