Friday, April 29, 2016

three ancient texts for leaders

When asked what to read to improve one's leadership, my first response is always to read great fiction - whether that be novels or dramas, reading the great writers of the world tell stories about the human condition not only helps one learn about "the other" - great fiction holds a mirror up to the reader and tells them about themself - if they will allow it.  My second response will be to read great philosophy - the canoncial texts from ancient Greece to modern day America.  These great thinkers help readers to understand the way the world works and why people think and act the way they do.  There is a reason Plato and Aristotlte still matter.  And thirdly, I will respond with several of the ancient texts that have stood the test of time - texts that have helped humans navigate the world over thousands of years.  It is three of these texts that I wish to share with you today:

  • The Book of Job - the Book of Job is a part of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, and relates a story of man and God in conflict and dialogue with one another.  Job is successful beyond belief, until one day it is all taken away from him.  His anger is expressed outwardly to God, who answers him as only God can...with straight forward questions.  Through the process, Job must contend with his so-called friends and learn to live with the cards that have been dealt to him.  Living through the mess of life and remaining fiathful to one's calling is a lesson leaders need to know and be reminded of on a regular basis.  One of my favorite translations of this texts is Stephen Mitchell's, published by Harper-Perennial.
  • The Tao Te Ching - this text, written by Lao Tzu in the 6th century BC, is a series of 81 verses reflecting on life and how one should live.  The verses are full of paradoxical situations in which one comes to understand the ever-changing/never-changing context of life.  When I first read these verses, I was struck by how they provided insight to leaders on ways they should think and act, especially in dealing with others.  This text is both inspiring and disturbing, as it will challenge one's asusmptions about life and leadership.  I read this text every summer, and contiue to find new ideas presented based on what is happening in my own life.  There are many translations of this text...the one I keep returning to is by Jonathan Starr and is published by Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.
  • Meditations - written in the second century by Marcus Aurelius, this book of sayings and proverbs reflects on how one should live their life as a person of honor.  Aurelius, who served as one of the emperors of Rome, wrote this from a viewpoint of stoic philosophy, where life is as life is (see The Book of Job).  Aurleius' insights into human relationships is nothing short of remarkable, providing a constant reminder of how we can better live our lives together: "A good man does not spy around for the black spots in others, but presses unswervingly on toward his mark."  Those in leadership positions would do well to read this text on a regular basis (I have a colleague who carries this text with him wherever he goes).  Again, there are many editions - the one on which I cut my teeth is the Penguin Books-Great Ideas series, edited by Maxwell Staniforth.
I hope you read these ancient texts...I hope you re-read these ancient texts...I hope you mark up your copy of these ancient texts...I hope you share with others these ancient texts...I hope you use these ancient texts as teaching tools...and I hope that you will be inspired to lead at a new level by taking these ancient texts to heart.

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