What helps us become good leaders? There is no single answer to that. But, here’s an interesting one we recommend: read like it is the 1980s and pick up a good, old-fashioned book. And not just any book. Opt for fiction!
There is an assumption that fiction books don’t have much to teach adults. They are considered a waste of time, given the packed calendars and commitments of leaders. But, according to former US President Barrack Obama, “When I think about how I understand my role as citizen… the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy… with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found.”
Not convincing enough? We have some compelling research that supports Mr. Obama’s experience:
- Understand emotions better. Psychologists David Kidd and Emanuel Castalano asked 2000 people to look at images of eyes and discern which emotion the person pictured was feeling. There was a clear pattern in their findings – the more literary fiction the participants knew, the better they performed on the emotional recognition test.
Why does this happen? When we read a story, and follow a character’s evolution, we apply the same cognitive function that we use to make sense of the world around us. Hence, we automatically connect them with our personal experiences – past or future.
- Develop intellectual humility. Through fiction, we can delve into the complexity of human personality and experiences. This, while keeping safe psychologically. It helps us work beyond logic, says Prof. Michael Benveniste, University of Puget Sound. As a result, our intellectual humility develops. It’s the willingness to accept that we might be wrong, and not get defensive, when information that’s unfavorable to our position comes to light.
How does this help us become good leaders? Intellectual humility sharpens our decision-making abilities!
- Reduce stress. More than any other relaxing activity – walking, listening to music or drinking a beverage – reading a novel reduces stress by 68%, says neuropsychologist David Lewis. He found that just six minutes of reading lowered participants’ heart rate and eased tension in the muscles.
How? It has all to do with escaping into a literary world. Don’t mistake this for distraction though. Reading actively engages our focus and our imagination. The words on the printed page stimulate our creativity, and we enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.
With so much working in favor of a good piece of fiction, doesn’t that reading nook now sound enticing? Just pick up a page-turner, and head there! Which one is it going to be?