This month’s Harvard Business Review has a fascinating article entitled “Leadership in Literature.” It is a conversation with Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr., professor of business ethics at Harvard Business School, in which he talks about using literature to explore leaders in all walks of life. The article explains how serious fiction (from authors as diverse as Sophocles to Joseph Conrad) can help the thoughtful reader understand complex emotional, psychological, and pragmatic challenges that leaders face. Some of the leadership themes discussed are: taking responsibility; self-knowledge and self-mastery; learning to underachieve (yes, you read that right); facing unexpected challenges; the complexities of ethical behavior; and identifying toxic dreams.
The class was conceived to bring MBA students, who come well-grounded in quantitative tools and business experiences, a richer understanding of human nature. Professor Badaracco observes that what he calls “serious literature” is much more realistic and nuanced than the relentlessly upbeat, formulaic management literature of today. Literature allows us to see a character’s struggles and then compare and contrast them to our own challenges. Provided, of course, we take the time to reflect on the rich lessons of literature and our own self understanding.
One reason I enjoyed this article is because it reminds me that our world is teeming with opportunities to learn. It is incumbent on us to take the time to identify, observe, and reflect on those opportunities. I learn from nature about beauty, order, rhythm. I learn from little children about curiosity and spontaneity. My clients teach me about communication and commitment. Family members demonstrate wisdom, courage, and humor. I can learn as much from small gestures as momentous events.
What learning opportunities are in your life? Are you taking the time to observe and absorb them? If you would like to talk with me about your reflections, and how you might apply them in your work, it would be my privilege to do so.
Sharon Keys Seal