The photo you see is the “real” Jim Sabella. I am one who gains their energy and refreshing in times of quiet isolation. That’s one reason why I prefer, for example, fly fishing in the Owyhee river over fly fishing the Delaware River. Both are beautiful in their own way. The Delaware rises from the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York where it gains width and speed as it travels south. It is wide and tree-lined. It is gorgeous and a classic northeast river, but one in which you are never far from people or civilization.
In contrast, when you drive into the valley (west of Bosie, just on the Oregon border ) through which the Owyhee river flows, you enter an other-worldly place. The stark hills lead down to the sage-covered flats that lead to a jewel of a river winding through the rock-filled landscape. Compared to the Delaware, at this point the Owyhee is a small stream; but the beauty of its red, yellow, amber, turquoise, and black landscape is unequaled. Not to mention there is no cell phone signal and few people. It is as if God pressed his thumb into the earth, it’s ridged imprint creating the mountains that guide the flow of water. A place where you can wander alone, following the rhythm of the day and the cast, and allow the quiet and healing isolation from a world gone crazy to recharge your battery.
Ministry is filled with demands— some of them crazy. It can seem as if the battery that keeps you going can become depleted without warning. There are regular or not so regular quick charges and a boost here and there, but a full charge is what is needed but seldom realized. After all, the world is filled with problems that need solving, and I am the problem solver! Many leaders do not realize or will not admit that the drive that makes them a good leader is the same drive that can hurt them. The reflexive response to a leader facing an empty battery is either: it will never happen to me, or I will recharge when I have the time. For a busy leader, the recharging is often not realized until they find themselves in what Shelley Trebesch calls involuntary isolation.  For Trebesch, both the result and solution to an empty battery is isolation. With this understanding, Trebesch concludes that isolation will sooner or later happen to all leaders. To put it another way, isolation will happen one way or the other— by choice or by crisis, one voluntary one involuntary.  For isolation is the place of transformation in the life of a leader. It is the place of stripping away of the outer shell, a wrestling, increased intimacy and a healthier look toward the future. 
In Isolation—A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader, Trebesch delineates three types of transformation that take place in isolation: inward, spiritual and ministerial.  These three are the core of the leader’s life and leadership and overlap in a way that one impacts the other. That transformational isolation touches each of these core areas makes it even more important in the leader’s life and leadership. Of course, there can be no transformation without seeing oneself as we really are. Not unlike an old piece of furniture that is stripped of its layers of paint until it reaches the beautiful wood from which it was created. As in the case of the old furniture, the coats of paint are often applied to cover, blemishes, stains, and cracks. Sometimes a coat of paint is an attempt to hide structurally severe problems. The times of isolation are the moments where God can strip away the many layers and get to the beauty that makes the leader who they are.
Though the transforming power of isolation applies to all leaders, I think that it is particularly applicable to middle leaders. Middle leaders often serve in complex organizational ambiguity where they are both follower and leader. In their leadership position, they must carry out a broader corporate vision within stratified layers of an organizational structure. The complexity of the middle leader’s position places them on both sides of the leadership equation where they must navigate relationships with the leaders above them and also the people they lead. They often have fewer resources at their disposal and even less “power-of-position.” They frequently must lead with influence only and make decisions that range from simple to complicated, complex to chaotic.  In this way, their role, function, and purpose often overlap and set the stage for working in a mix of ambiguity where success is difficult to quantify, making middle leadership a position of unequaled pressure within an organization. In this leadership context, the need for purposeful and transformational isolation is more important than ever, and Trebesch is an excellent source.
Though Trebesch is calling for more than just a fishing trip, the fishing trip may be the beginning of a voluntary isolation that prevents the involuntary option from taking place. And so, instead of feeling guilty about saying, “I’d rather be fishing” Trebesch helps the leader to see the wisdom in both the speaking and the doing.
- Trebesch, Shelley G. Isolation–a Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader. VistaGroup Consulting, 1997, 73.
- Ibid., 30-32.
- Ibid., 38-42.
- Ibid., 49.
- Snowden, David, and Mary Boone. “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making.” (2007): https://hbr.org/2007/11/a-leaders-framework-for-decision-making (accessed Jan 30, 2018).