Philosopher Ryan Holiday in his book Stillness is the Key (2019) examines how modern life makes it challenging to find stillness which he believes is key to being able to think more clearly and creatively. Holiday also contends that we need to look no further than Napoleon Bonaparte, who served as Emperor of France (1804 – 1814) for examples on how to achieve stillness while serving in a leadership role.
Napoleon on Space and Time
The military strategies and tactics of Napoleon Bonaparte are still widely studied throughout the world today. According to Holiday, Napoleon didn’t think it wasn’t enough for a leader to think and act strategically. Rather, Napoleon believed that leaders needed space and time to be able to filter out the inconsequential matters from the important issues that required his immediate attention.
Opening Napoleon’s Mail
Napoleon believed in operating from a place of stillness and solitude so that he could think clearly and creatively. Being reactive was not in Napoleon’s playbook. Napoleon’s staff were instructed to not open his mail until three weeks had passed. His strategy for not opening mail until the news had become old was to see how many issues would resolve themselves without his intervention.
Napoleon ordered his staff to never wake him unless there was news of great importance that could affect his military campaigns. “Rouse me instantly, for there is not to be a moment to be lost,” he was famously quoted as saying. All other news, even good news could wait. Napoleon believed that to be an effective leader, he needed to lower distractions and revel in stillness as a regular course of action.
Living in an era where ringing cell phones, email pings, and the bells of social media constantly chime from our laptops and watches, finding stillness can be challenging. Holiday recommends not being a slave to your inbox and letting trivial matters resolve themselves so that you can deal with more important issues with focus and clarity.
Elaine Allan, BA, MBA
Technology & Business Blogger
Vancouver, BC, Canada