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Last night, while watching Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, I was impressed by Holmes’ and his archnemesis’ ability to not only quote from literature, but to apply the quotes in a way that fit the plot of the movie. Of course, the actors were merely reciting the lines that had been crafted for them by a witty screenwriter, but I have always felt that the ability to recall specific and meaningful lines from literature, and use them to add relevancy and a deeper understanding to your current situation, is an undervalued skill. I came across a blog post in the Harvard Business Review that highlights the benefits leaders derive from being avid readers:

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/08/for_those_who_want_to_lead_rea.html

According to the author and blogger, John Coleman, “deep, broad reading habits are often a defining characteristic of our greatest leaders and can catalyze insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness.” All that from the printed page, or electronic page. It may seem strange to imagine a modern day executive who rattles off Proust during a project meeting, but perhaps it isn’t that strange – Harman Industries founder Sidney Harman quoted “freely from Shakespeare and Tennyson.”

A few other advantages described by Coleman:

  • Improved intelligence and empathy
  • Increased vocabulary and world knowledge
  • Understanding social cues
  • New information from other fields
  • Relaxation and stress reduction

The leadership course I wrote for the AICPA, entitled Leadership Update: Leading the Finance Team into the Future, gets updated every year (hence the term Update in the title),  and I choose several books to summarize as part of the annual update. Think of it as Cliff Notes for busy professionals. It is my way of recommending books that I believe will help emerging or current leaders improve their leadership effectiveness and management skills, or find solutions that can be applied in the workplace.

I may not be as clever as Sherlock Holmes, but I will end with a quote about reading:

“Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.”
Marcel Proust