My experience is the best leaders always have a book they are reading. Reading is essential to lifelong learning, which is essential to our growth.
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. Currently the audio version of my book Decoding the Workplace outpaces the other formats.
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, and 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 career.
In 2021 two books had the most influence on me. The first is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor in the second century. Meditations is just that, a book of reflections written by Marcus Aurelius. These were notes he made for himself. They were never intended to be shared or published. The first chapter consists of remarks about people for whom he was thankful. For me the book really begins in the second of the twelve chapters. Aurelius reflects on many aspects of human behavior, temperament, personal conduct, human relations, death. In his youth he was schooled in Stoic philosophy which he integrated into his life. Thus it is not surprising that Meditations is considered a great work of Stoicism. I read Meditations slowly, digesting, highlighting, and thinking about passages as I read them. The wisdom and insights in Meditations remain relevant in the 21st Century.
The second book is Time Steps: My Musical Comedy Life, the memoir of Donna McKechnie, dancer, actor, and singer. McKechnie was a dancer on a 1965-66 TV musical program Hullabaloo, segments of which stream on YouTube. In 1976 she was awarded a Tony as Best Actress for her role in A Chorus Line. I was curious how she went from a TV program to starring on Broadway so I checked out this book. Imagine my surprise to learn she was on Broadway even before she was a dancer on Hullabaloo. Apart from the story of McKechnie’s fascinating life, the book took me into the world of theater, learning about acting, dancing, and the lifestyle of performers. Sometimes a book expands your horizons, takes you where you’ve never been. Time Steps was like that for me.
As we begin 2022, here are a few of the books I am reading or are on my reading list:
- Now Comes Good Sailing: Writers Reflect on Henry David Thoreau edited by Andrew Blauner
- The Saturn Above It: An Anthology of Short Fiction about Space edited by Karen Stevens
- The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
- The Odyssey by Homer translated by Emily Wilson
- Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys by Michael Collins
- A Short History of War by Jeremy Black
- The Experience of Leadership: Proven Examples from Successful Leaders by Fred Stuvek, Jr. (I contributed a chapter to this book and am now reading the other chapters.)
“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?
Aurelius, M. (2020). Meditations: The philosophy classic. John Wiley & Sons
McKechnie, D. (2006). Time steps: My musical comedy life. Simon & Schuster.
Image, my photo.
© John Ballard, PhD, 2022. 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, paperback, and audio CD.