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Cognitive Development

This is learning that supports leaders to be inclusive at all levels, to be engaged and push beyond best practices. Cognitive development transforms our worldview, our mindset, as well as our ego and self-concept. This development supports movement from rigid beliefs and conformity to comfort with ambiguity allowing for adaptive and creative solutions.

Article Synopsis

Solitude and Leadership

Approximate length: 20 minutes

In the above-referenced article, author Michael Deresiewicz, former Yale Professor, contends that although seemingly contradictory, the essence of effective leadership connects to solitude. The author makes the claim that an effective leader knows how to think independently and critically—and this requires a path of individuating that can only happen by deliberately taking the time to do it.

In the first part of his speech, which was delivered to a plebe class at West Point, the author discusses leadership. He compares leadership to other traits his audience members may be familiar with, such as ambition, aptitude, or accomplishment, but says that these other traits, as significant as they are, do not equate to leadership. He then defines bureaucracy, as what most organizations, including the Army, is made up of. The author’s view is that bureaucracies don’t engender effective leaders, and what they mainly reward is conformity and complacency, and other traits, unrelated to leadership.

He goes on to say we have a crisis of leadership in America because the majority of our leaders lack vision—and the ability to forge new ideas and directions. He states that "true leadership means being able to think for yourself and act on your convictions," which can be revolutionary. He states that many of today’s leaders lack moral courage, providing examples of a few leaders who have broken this mold.

The author then talks about why the ability to think gets pushed aside in today’s society. He states a recent emphasis on multitasking and prevalence of constant distractions are significant reasons, and as a result, we often internalize others’ ideas as our own. To combat this, the author highlights the importance of slowing down to contemplate and focus. He states that thinking takes time, and typically, his first ideas are not his best thoughts. The author also debates the merits of books, which can be constructive, if you take time to reflect on them. Crafted over longer periods of time, books are also often written in a different era, and transcend present day mindsets.

Finally, the author talks about the importance of uninterrupted thoughts and conversations, to grapple with ideas and "find your own reality." The author claims you must make yourself confront difficult questions about your own humanity and humanity itself. It’s here, where you articulate your thoughts, and set your own moral compass and priorities. The author says that being a leader is often lonely. Although you can always consult others, in the tough moments, "all you really have is yourself."

Guiding Questions

Solitude and Leadership

  1. Do you agree with how the author views leadership and effective leaders? Why or why not?
  2. What are ways the author suggests to improve your ability to think critically and independently?
  3. What are additional strategies, beyond suggestions in this article, to enhance your own cognition—namely, for critical thinking, creative thinking, and problem solving?

Full Article/Reference

Solitude and Leadership

Deresiewicz, William. "Solitude and Leadership." An address at West Point Military Academy. The American Scholar. Spring 2010. Accessed 18 June 2018.