Lessons in Leadership from a Solar Paradox

Last night the Winter Solstice occurred at 11:48 PM ET, making today the first day of Winter in the U.S., and the shortest day of the year. This is a typical day for me, in that I see both the sunrise and the sunset. Reflecting on this, a question popped into my mind:

Why does the dawn “break” but the sun “sets”?

From the science perspective, they are equally defined: when the upper edge of the sun appears (or disappears) on the horizon, that’s the sunrise (or sunset).

In our language, however, the dawn appears in an instant (breaks) while the sunset takes its time (sets).

I’m no scientist, but I think it’s a matter of visual contrast. In the darkness before dawn, the world is hidden. Unless our eyes have adjusted to the darkness, everything is hidden to us – until the sun illuminates it in a flash. At that instant, everything becomes clear.

As the day winds down, we are cognizant of our surroundings even as the light fades into darkness. We are comforted by what we see, even when we can’t see it any longer. The memory of what we saw remains even when we can’t see it.

As a leader, we often have both dawn and sunset moments. Sometimes we sense things around us but only see them when something “breaks” – an idea, or a comment, or a situation. Other times, we are so familiar with the visible that we “see” it even when it’s not there.

A wise leader knows the difference, and can utilize both “breaking” and “setting.”




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