In a recent talk I gave to Lutheran School administrators, I encouraged them to read six different books, most of them being in a variety of genres. During our team's retreat yesterday, one of the questions asked was in what genre we most often read. My previous post (based on my month of reading in Maine) dealt with why leaders read...today's post will take a closer look at the different genres in which leaders should read. While I realize we all have our favorites types of books, let me encourage you (as I did my audience earlier this week) to read in genres others than those you find familiar.
HISTORY: History is a re-telling of past events and how people dealt with issues that faced them at that time. Leaders face all types of circumstances, many of which are not new or unique. Reading about how others have dealt with issues provides alternatives for leaders as well as a perspective that there is nothing really new under the sun. Consider also the sub-cateogry of MILITARY HISTORY as it will be a study of how leaders made decisions in difficult circumstances.
BIOGRAPHY: I used to think that only biographies of great leaders were worth my time, but I have discovered that biographies of all types of people provide insight into others aspects of leadership. A recent biography of the composer Stephen Schwartz provided insight into one's creativity...biographies of sports heroes, media personalities, historical figures, and others will help you understand people and their circumstances in new and different ways.
PHILOSOPHY: I cannot stress enough how important it is for people in leadership positions to read the great works of philosophy. My life has been so enriched by reading the works of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kierkegaard, Mill, and so many others that I cannot recommend these types of books enough. These are books that changed the world and have lasted hundreds/thousaonds of years. Do not underestimate their power in shaping your thinking and actions.
DRAMA: I could go on and on about Shakespeare (and might in a future post) and his ability to create characters that not only make you think and take a close look at yourself but also give great insights into how to lead (ot how NOT to lead). One great way to read these is to find an audio version of the plays and read along while listening. Don't forget the great plays of the early Greeks (especially Socrates' Oedipus cycle) and of contemporary writers such as Tenessee Williams and Arthur Miller who so brilliantly depict the tragedy of human life.
POETRY: This has become a new favorite of mine as it helps me see the world through a whole new lens. The great poets of the world give me an insight in a way I do not normally think, providing a beautiful picture of life, even when the subject matter is difficult. What better way to understand leadership than by reading John Donne, Walt Whitman, or T.S. Elliot.
CLASSIC TEXTS: The Iliad...The Odessy...The Aeneid...The History of the Peloponnesian War...The Twelve Ceasars..Lutarch's Lives...Meditations....Beowulf...Gilgamesh...and the list goes on and on. Pick the one that most interests you and dig in (and find a translation that works for you). You will be surprised what you can learn about leadership when you read these texts through that lens.
ECONOMICS: All leaders must understand the principles of economics if they are to make decisions that affect multiple people and places. Start with a basic text, then dig deep into some of the classic writings of Smith, Marx, Friedman, Hayek, and Keynes. My guess is that you will start using what you learn almost imnmediately.
I am sure there are more genres to mention and more texts to recommend (feel free to do so in the comment section). Of course, please be sure to read great fiction and the best (but only the best) in leadership theory and practice. Thanks for reading this list...now go and read something from one of these genres.