“What is the role of literature, or for that matter any form of poetry, art and music, in management education and practice? Is it an engagement in abstraction, an escape from the drudgery of daily life? Is it a flight to fantasy, a leap into the void? Certainly not! The need for mainstreaming inputs from literature, poetry and music in MBA curricula and corporate training modules rises from the acute inadequacy to deal with the complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity and turbulence in the business scenario today. The art of managing people is not a matter of deployment of a set of skills or use of stereotyped formulas but awakening and unleashing our creative potential energy in its deepest and widest sense. Thus the realisation is slowly dawning in leadership consciousness that literature can enliven the spirit within, or otherwise why should Prof Joseph L Badaracco Jr at Harvard be using Sophocles, Joseph Conrad and Arthur Miller in leadership courses and Prof James Maarch at Stanford, who delves into literature after a lifelong journey with Organisational Design and Strategy to unfold the myriad dimensions of life and human behaviour to students and business barons before they deal with the multiple layers of reality within the self, the organisation and the planet at large?
Literature awakens the spirit in an exploratory – rather, evolutionary – and in not a pedantic manner, so that we can outgrow our conventional stereotypes of right and wrong, good and bad, black and white. “The colour of truth is grey,” said French writer Andre Gide.”
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A Harvard Professor teaches MBA students how to become moral leaders, and finds lessons in literature:
“the understanding of what makes a good leader starts with searching for truth in works of fiction.”
“It takes something really big to shape somebody … The reason literature can have that influence–these books kind of get under peoples’ skin.”
“Because you read these books, and you might see one of these characters and think, ‘That’s me.”
“I think what you get from serious literature is a warts-and-all view of people and people in leadership positions … In other words, the authors can be basically unsparing. The good stuff and bad stuff and the confused stuff going over (the characters’) heads, it’s all there. You can see it and learn from how these characters made decisions.”
“This course is intensely practical, if the term practical is understood to include preparation for living a morally responsible life … One of the goals of this course is to move you beyond your immediate reactions in challenging situations toward a more considered and analytical approach to moral and ethical decision-making.”
“Some studies suggest that one of the reasons senior executives read is to provide relief from the solitude of being at the top. According to a quote attributed to C.S. Lewis: “We read to learn that we are not alone”.
“If you allow me to suggest just one takeaway from this post: reading literature –the classics, drama, novels, poetry- will help you to learn more about the world, about human nature, about how human beings interact in society and in work. Reading literature may help you to become a better manager.”
“Literature gives students a much more realistic view of what’s involved in leading” than many business books on leadership… Literature lets you see leaders and others from the inside. You share the sense of what they’re thinking and feeling. In real life, you’re usually at some distance and things are prepared, polished. With literature, you can see the whole messy collection of things that happen inside our heads.”
“Students … react to characters in the book as if they’re real people. There’s a much deeper engagement in the actual material. It’s not about whether the debits and credits add up. They’re making comments about who they are and what they care about, and how they feel about the world that differs from their fellow students. It also reflects the student’s own character and judgment.”
“Reading literature, and discussing complex issues with others, “teaches that people who are intelligent can see things differently … and this happens in organizations, too; you need to be open and listen to these differences.” Leaders have to recognize their biases and blind spots.”
“As a reflection of many adults, many children nowadays prefer everything to be easy and instant. So parents play a big role in encouraging children to love reading. The role of the school curriculum is also equally important. Regretfully, our educational curriculum today also weighs less on reading and writing”…
“reading and writing were two inseparable skills that children needed to develop, as both skills greatly influenced the development of other soft skills needed in adulthood, such as leadership and the ability to express opinion. “Not only will they be instilled with the value of virtues from the stories they read, reading and writing skills prepare children to be ready to face society, to bravely express their opinions and be less [passive]. I believe, those are some of the qualities required for our future leaders”…
Want to be a leader in your field? Read.
“The leadership benefits of reading are wide-ranging. Evidence suggests reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight. Some studies have shown, for example, that reading makes you smarter through “a larger vocabulary and more world knowledge in addition to the abstract reasoning skills.” Reading — whether Wikipedia, Michael Lewis, or Aristotle — is one of the quickest ways to acquire and assimilate new information. Many business people claim that reading across fields is good for creativity. And leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them to their organizations are more likely to innovate and prosper.
Reading can also make you more effective in leading others. Reading increases verbal intelligence (PDF), making a leader a more adept and articulate communicator. Reading novels can improve empathy and understanding of social cues, allowing a leader to better work with and understand others — traits that author Anne Kreamer persuasively linked to increased organizational effectiveness, and to pay raises and promotions for the leaders who possessed these qualities. And any business person understands that heightened emotional intelligence will improve his or her leadership and management ability.
Finally, an active literary life can make you more personally effective by keeping you relaxed and improving health. For stressed executives, reading is the best way to relax, as reading for six minutes can reduce stress by 68%, and some studies suggest reading may even fend off Alzheimer’s, extending the longevity of the mind.
Reading more can lead to a host of benefits for business people of all stripes, and broad, deep reading can make you a better leader. So how can you get started? Here are a few tips:”
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