My experience is the best leaders always have a book they are reading. Reading is essential to lifelong learning.
What role do books play in your life? In your learning? My guess is that for many, we just don’t have enough time. Making time to read books is important. I usually have several books in my study that I am working through. On long trips I enjoy audiobooks. I have friends who like audiobooks best. The audio version of my book Decoding the Workplace has been and continues to be the most popular format.
How do you nurture book reading in those who do not enjoy reading? As leaders, we lead by example. We talk about books we are reading, we share stories, we talk about how books have affected our lives. I'm often asked what book influenced me the most as a manager and consultant. Easy to answer: Peter Drucker's Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. I came across this book as a young manager when I was first building consulting capabilities in my teams. I have returned to it for knowledge, wisdom, and ideas throughout my careers.
In 2023 the book that affected me most was The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, a simply-written book that reflected a positive attitude toward trimming one’s possessions. It caused me to think about my collections and where they might be when I have moved on from this physical body. Who would want my collection of turtle figurines, my collection of art by Bernard Gantner, my library, my music? The book even spurred me to have ChatGPT give me some planning options.
Another book I valued this year was by Edward Hoffman, Visions of Innocence: Spiritual and Inspirational Experiences of Childhood. Hoffman collected stories, anecdotes from adults who had vivid memories of unique childhood experiences, many of which could be categorized as psychic or mystical phenomena, e.g., near-death experiences, out-of-the-body experiences, reincarnation, apparitions, feelings of oneness, cosmic awareness, and so forth. It reminded me of an early formative book for me, Hidden Channels of the Mind by Lousia E. Rhine.
I should also mention another book by Hoffman, The Wisdom of Carl Jung, newly reprinted. Steven Joseph summed it up very well: “A brilliantly arranged selection of brief, accessible citations from the formal writings and personal letters of C. G. Jung. The short excerpts…convey a direct ‘feel’ of Jung’s style and experiential way of engaging the realities of the psyche…far and away the best available introduction to Jung’s life-enhancing wisdom.” It reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Thoughts of Thoreau by Edwin Teale. Both are the type of books you can open to any page for a short meaningful read.
Finally I should mention a book that has often been in my hands throughout the year, Eclipse Bulletin: Total Solar Eclipse of 2024 April 08 by Fred Espenak and Jay Anderson. This will be my third total solar eclipse and will cross the United States from Texas to Maine. On April 8 the shadow of the moon will fall on my home. No climbing Mauna Loa. No travels to western Nebraska. If you can, on April 8, be in the shadow of the moon, look up, and be amazed.
As we begin 2024, here are a few of the books I am reading or that are on my reading list:
- The Friction Project: How Smart Leaders Make the Right Things Easier and the Wrong Things Harder by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao
- C. J. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters edited by William McGuire and R. F. C. Hull
- Masala Memsahib: Recipes and Stories from My Culinary Adventures in India by Karen Anand
- Watership Down: The Graphic Novel by Richard Adams, adapted and illustrated by James Sturm and Joe Sutphin
- The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien: The Places that Inspired Middle-Earth by John Garth
- Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings by Matsuo Bashō translated by Sam Hamill
- Death as an Altered State of Consciousness by Imants Barušs
- The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron
- The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism by Daniel Matt
- Thoughts on War by Phillip Meilinger
- The Drive for Self: Alfred Adler and the Founding of Individual Psychology by Edward Hoffman
“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them," Mark Twain.
Or as the comedian Groucho Marx said, “Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.”
What are you reading?
Image, my photo.
© John Ballard, PhD, 2024. All rights reserved.
Decoding the Workplace “deals with principles and practices that are timeless . . . Is this a must-have for managers and would-be managers? Yes.” Academy of Management Learning & Education, June, 2018. Now also available as an audiobook and paperback.