Since most of my reading is done with what I call "leadership lenses," here are two leadership lessons learned from reading Proust:
- The narrator (the novel is semi-autobiographical) seems to idolize (and idealize) many of the characters prior to actually meeting them - he holds them in such a high esteem that he misses many opportunities to engage them and get to know them (i.e. the Duchesse Guermantes). Once he gets to really know them, he realizes that they are people just like him, with all the flaws that accompany humankind. We often put certain leaders on pedestals and become immobilized in approaching them or learning from them. Once we realize that all leaders put their pants on one leg at a time, it can become much easier to call them, approach them, email them, or invite them out for lunch. We should not be afraid of approaching people and getting to know them, just because they have a certain title or position. Much of the narrative of the novel is Marcel listening to these people talk amongst each other and getting to know them in that manner. Listening is key to building these relationships - and people love to talk about themselves. So be sure to show up at the right occasions, and just listen in.
- During the dinner party, after listening to some very "silly" conversations, the narrator makes this note to himself: "so there is no conversation, any more than there are personal relationships, from which we can be certain that we shall not one day derive some benefit." How true this is for each of us in our own lives. Every conversation - every talk - every person we meet - every relationship might have something to offer that will be of benefit to us in the future. Every book we read - every movie we watch - every speech we listen to - every opportunity to engage in a conversation might offer to us something that we can use in our own leadership in the future. Taking advantage of these opportunities and then making the most of them might be the mosts important part of our leadership development. As noted above, LISTENING is a key element in learning, so take advantage of all opportuniites presented to you to listen and learn.
By the way, in a recent Wall Street Journal article on summer reading of the 2012 presidential candidates, it was noted that Governor Rick Perry reads (and re-reads in the original French language) Proust's Remembrances of Things Past. While I am no Rick Perry, it was nice to see that others in leadership positions read this novel. Hope he also takes away leadership lessons from reading great literature.