Isolation, A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader by Shelly Trebesch is an academic field guide to the specific stop of isolation on the journey that 95% of leaders will experience. Trebesch states that “all leaders face deep processing..where God uses such activities as isolation, conflict, and life crisis to deepen a leader’s relationship with God.” (Trebesch, v)
The ultimate outcome is the development of spiritual authority in the life of a leader. According to Trebesch there are two responses to this deepening: rejection or comfort. The book gives personal, Biblical, and contemporary examples of this experience in the form of case studies. Although this experience is broad enough to apply to most if not all leaders, it focuses on those in full time vocational ministry.
The process given by Trebesch is four step: Stripping, breaking process at beginning; Wrestling with God, hunger for God is key; Increased Intimacy with God, deepening and developing occurs; Future, where vision returns. The fruit of the experience for a leader is transformation. The transformation occurs in three ways: Inward, health and growth of leader personally; Spiritual, relationship with God goes to a pinnacle, Ministerial, the external fruit visible for others to witness. The author concludes the book with a connection to Psalm 42 and time line for the experience.
I found this book to be a simply organized and chronological map of the journey through the experience of Isolation. The author is certain that this stop is unavoidable in the life of a leader. As much as I or any leader do not like this part of the journey, I would have to agree that crucibles such as isolation are unavoidable. As I read and type this blog, my mind goes over personal experiences and struggles. I also find great solace in the case studies presented. I think it is important to not that the book is not a “hard and fast” rule for the experience. Rather “different leaders may experience different nuances of the process…order may vary.” (Trebesch, 35).
Under the point of “Stripping” the author speaks of a public loss of leadership identity: removal, discipline, firing, etc. This was a bit alarming or disturbing for me, in large part because most isolation begins after the professional aspect of a leader’s life begins. This certainly occurs and can be necessary is some cases, however if 95% face isolation then this loss of job, title, and position is not quit a common. I give this observation, because I think many times we experience this “stripping” internally when externally we are still visibly intact. If that is the case it becomes more severe for the leader because they are struggling alone.
Last, my dissertation is on the subject of managing leadership tension. I contend that successful management of such tension is the key to the success of a leader and the organization they lead. Trebesch’s work gives much validity to this thesis. As I read this book I could sense the tension and feel the pressure. Her exegesis of Psalm 42 steps into the tension and navigates it. Even in the appendix with Clinton’s work facing isolation, this tension is something to be embraced and walked out. Because if a leader does not embrace the journey and ejects from the process prematurely it can circumvent the work God is endeavoring to do in the life of leader. Where I am from they call this action of early exiting a difficult situation: jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Trebesch is trying to give good instruction to stay in the pan until the contents are ready and not to endure unnecessary hardship of the fire.