Occasionally, I like to feature a guest post on writing or books. I liked Jim Recklis' perspective on reading fiction -- and hope you will, too.
Reading Fiction Makes You a Better Leader
If leaders are readers, then what about fiction?
I am convinced many good leaders are missing out on the transforming power of story in fiction books. And I know of no one better to help me persuade the doubters and encourage those already won over than my wife. She led me and our family to love reading fiction. I am so grateful and you will be too.
Have you ever been completely captivated in the pages of a story and felt guilty for wasting time and being so “unproductive”? When reading a fiction book in public, have you wanted a “fake” cover so it would not look like you were a lightweight?
As an avid (and I mean avid) reader of fiction, I would like to challenge you to consider a different perspective, one that invokes the value of fiction to affect your skills and influence as a leader.
Perhaps in the pages and world of a fiction story, instead of losing yourself and wasting time, you are gaining new spaces of empathy and understanding? Maybe the struggles, pains, and joys of a character can shape your thinking and your actions more than you know. And just maybe a character’s wisdom and insight would lead to action on your part that transforms the teams that are under your management.
Storytelling is powerful.
Valuable instruction and practices can be hidden in the pages of fiction.
Story reaches us at a level that lessons, points, and advice rarely do and imprints the lesson and gives weight to the point. Story increases our capacity to “take away” the instruction being given. A well-developed character stirs our imagination and can take the role of mentor and coach.
In the pages of a book set in Montreal and Quebec, one such character has shaped my understanding of the best and worst ways leaders can lead and perhaps even shape the destiny of those on their teams.
The character is Armand Gamache and he resides in the novels by Canadian author, Louise Penny. Using the voice of Armand, Louise reveals a leadership practice that will impart the values of a healthy team better than hours of seminars and lectures ever could.
As head of the Quebec Surete, Armand is faced with competition, jealousy, and division among the team of officers that he commands. He frequently faces ridicule and spiteful reactions from superiors. Ongoing in the series and amid the plot lines, Armand pursues actions and attitudes to help him lead well amid division and conflict. He strives to create bonds that bridge gaps and foster trust.
Punitive means, didactic policies and harsh correction will not and have not succeeded. So, Armand chooses a path of identifying with failures, insecurities, and addresses each struggling recruit with the following succinct and unexpected words of insight:
We all need to learn to say:
"I am sorry."
"I was wrong."
"I don’t know."
" I need help.”
Pausing to let those words sink in, Armand suggests that If each one practiced the humility and strength of these four statements, there would be less competition, less division, and less tearing down. In contrast, such practices will engender more cooperation, understanding and supportive teamwork.
Imagine receiving this advice in person from a trusted mentor and feeling the effect of this humility and gentleness in your workplace.
Consider being the leader that speaks such quiet but powerful understanding and instruction.
Fiction broadens our perspective, enlarges our empathy and engages our imagination. We open to possibilities that we may resist if we encountered them as a bullet-pointed memo or powerpoint presentation.
We are changed by what we feel, experience and imagine far more than what we are told. Immersed in the plot and identifying with a character, we can “try on” new patterns and attitudes and consider changes in subtle but powerful ways.
As a leader, have you spoken any of Armand’s statements lately?
To someone that makes it difficult?
Which statement is the hardest for you to speak? Which is a bit easier?
Have you led by example to practice this kind of courage and humility?
Have you given your team permission to be so candid and vulnerable?
Perhaps a story set in Canada that has nothing to do with your everyday life could actually be the catalyst for change in your leadership.
Perhaps what you glean from fiction and story could transform your team, community and each place of your influence.
And beyond all that, perhaps you will really enjoy the “time away” from your work world and find re-creation in the pages of a story!
I appreciate my wife's insights gleaned from her love of fiction and our many discussions on characters and plots over the years. For research on the powerful effects on leaders who read fiction go here.
About the author: You can learn more about Jim and his leadership practice at http://rekliscoachingandconsulting.com/
Thanks for reading!
And don't forget to check out Nancy's newest book -- Out of the Shadows - Coming Home !
Available June 23rd in the Kindle store at the pre-sale price of only $.99. ($2.99 value).
General Nicolai Hewzenko has achieved almost everything he planned – he’s led a revolution, run a country and raised the standard of living for his people. Then he gets a tip and launches a daring rescue to find his long-lost daughter, Silvia. But for someone used to giving orders, getting to know a 12-year-old who is terrified of him proves far more complicated than planning the mission to rescue her. The psychologist he brings in to help turns out to be as vulnerable as Silvia is, while his challenges grow beyond his father-daughter relationship until his life’s work – and perhaps his life -- is in jeopardy. Can they free each other from the shadows of the past and find the love they crave?
On pre-order (special discount) at Amazon -- click here to get your copy today!
Here are some more small wildflowers -- hope you enjoy them. Also, if you know their names, please add them in the comments. Anyone who can name them all gets a free copy of my new ebook!
A while ago, I wrote a post about finding the blue button of happiness. It's an old post, but one of my favorites -- if you want to read it, you can check it out here.
In this time of social distancing and worry about the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have to look harder for things that make you happy, but they are still out there.
Sometimes, they can be really small things that you might normally overlook.
Like tiny wildflowers.
Some people might call them weeds, but I was delighted to see that our backyard had tons of tiny surprises this spring (beyond the daffodils, but I planted them so they weren't a true a surprise). With the help of a macro lens, I was able to see how beautiful these really are. I hope you enjoy them, too!
Whether you are quarantined or staying home to avoid catching the Coronavirus, picking up a good book can help you escape reality for a time and alleviate the social isolation you might feel.
Or you could consider it a good opportunity to expand your horizons.
Reading can expand your perspective and give you insights into other worlds. There is nothing like seeing the world through another's eyes!
Where did this list come from?
The five books on this list came from suggestions from readers and friends. It's not meant to be comprehensive, it's more of a starter list, so if you have a book to suggest, I'd like to hear about it. Just leave the title and author in the comments.
1) The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz and Janet Mills . I was introduced to this book quite a few years ago in a book club; it has all types of helpful philosophy while remaining interesting to read. The four agreements include: Be impeccable with your word. Don't take anything personally. Don't make assumptions. Always do your best. It's the how and why one should do these things that make The Four Agreements worth reading and remembering.
2) The Art of Happiness by the Dali Lama.
The Art of Happiness is credited with starting the "happiness books" genre, and it remains the cornerstone of the field of positive psychology. Through conversations, stories, and meditations, the Dalai Lama shows how to defeat day-to-day anxiety, insecurity, anger, and discouragement. He explores many facets of everyday life, including relationships, loss, and the pursuit of wealth, to illustrate how to ride through life's obstacles on a deep and abiding source of inner peace. Based on 2,500 years of Buddhist meditations mixed with a healthy dose of common sense, This book has touched countless lives and uplifted spirits around the world -- you could join them!
3) Plain, Honest Men - by Richard Beeman
We often hear people talking about the Constitution of the United States. This book illuminates the historical background, conflicts and personalities of the men who wrote it and the compromises that were needed to make the United States possible.
4) Becoming - by Michelle Obama.
This is a well written and entertaining book about growing up, striving and being a working mother and political spouse. I wish I had read it earlier in my life, as the way Michelle looks at the world is refreshing. Especially recommend it to smart young women -- of any color or political leaning.
5) A Gentleman from Moscow - by Amor Towles
This is the only fiction book on the list, but belongs here as the writing is so eloquent and the story uplifting. Amid the likeable personalities and historical details,
the main character, Count Alexander Rostov, is sentenced to live in the Metro hotel for his crime of being a aristocrat. How he is able to master his circumstances makes delightful reading.
Gift giving can be joyful, especially during this time of year.
But it can be awkward when a gift is given but the recipient had different expectations.
Check out what Chuck's present to Sophia is, and how that feeling plays out in the scene below from Cinnamon Bourbon and Deception .
The Odd Gift
“And why not?” Chuck asked petulantly as he opened the door to the house, knowing full well what she’d say, but feeling like he had to ask anyway.
“You are too busy!” Sophia began, adamant. “Remember how concerned you were about Tomas becoming distracted by Violet? You’ve already had one chemical leak, you’re gearing up a barely tested process, and gambling with not only investor’s money, but yours, too.”
That gave Chuck an idea. He smiled at his thought — it was an odd segue, but maybe it would work. Not the most romantic, but clever. He turned around, softening and lowering his voice. “And why do you care about my money and health?”
“Are you from Mars?” She put on her incredulous look. “I’m concerned about you. You are the most important person in my life.”
“Then wait here.” Chuck hustled into the bedroom and started throwing socks out of his drawer. He wished he’d gone ahead and bought that opal ring he’d been looking at, but maybe this would work.
“I know it’s here somewhere.” He dug further, finding his Thanksgiving turkey socks. Then he pulled out a small box out from under the Superman socks.
Practically running back into the living room, he held the box behind his back. “So, you’d like to be able to advise me on what I can do?”
Sophia was giving him that “you’re being strange again” look, but she nodded, definitely curious.
“Then wear this.”
She looked at the box, then at Chuck, wide eyed. “This is how you…”
“Open it?” He urged her.
She slowly opened it. “It’s … it’s…”
He’d done it! For once, she was speechless, he thought wryly. Maybe she would say yes if he asked her the right question, the proper way. But after what he’d overheard, he wasn’t sure and didn’t want to chance a rejection.
“It’s an electronic ring — goes with your phone, so you’ll never be out of reach, even if you can’t get your phone out from where it hides in your purse.”
She just stared at him. He could tell Sophia was trying to look nonplused but her jaw was suspended as if she had an invisible giant jawbreaker inside.
“You were expecting something else?” He loved teasing her, but she looked so puzzled, it wasn’t as much fun as he had imagined. One thing that attracted him to Sophia was her honest and forthright character, even though sometimes she could over do it. She was the exact opposite of his ex-wife. From her reaction, she thought he was toying with her. He was, in a way, but felt justified because he’d heard her tell Liza that “I can see how a wedding ring like that could get in the way” in the kitchen.
“Well, maybe … I never know with you.” She shrugged and tried the ring on. “It’s unusual, but I like it.”
“True.” He agreed and turned his focus to the ring. “You won’t see one like it, because it’s in beta testing. You might have to fill out a survey…”
“Survey?” Eyebrows up. “This gift comes with complications?”
“Yes, remember, like when Tomas tested his coating on your car? That worked out pretty well, so I thought you’d like to be the first on this.”
“Oh gee, thanks, perhaps it will also help save my life.” She sighed. “Actually, it is pretty cool, I’ll be happy to answer surveys. Friend of yours, I presume?”
“You bet. Inventors Club buddy.”
“Ah, then I do like it.” She held her hand out to survey the ring, glancing sideways at him. “Does this mean we’re going steady?”
It was Chuck’s turn to feel at loss for words. “Yes, I wasn’t thinking exactly that, but you’ve captured the feeling exactly.” He put his arms around her. “I think I’ve been going steady ever since that storm blew you back into my life.”
“Well, maybe it was when you and the cat fell asleep in the chair by the fire, and the dog curled up next to you.”
To read more, find the book at your favorite ebook seller.
Happy Holidays! It's just past Thanksgiving and I hope you all had a wonderful one. In case you're recovering from relative overload, here's a little writer humor. Cheers!
Most people think of September as the beginning of Autumn. But did you know that it's also Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month?
Now I'm starting to believe there is a month for everything :)
If you are a reader, you can celebrate by posting kind comments or reviews. Your favorite writer (and their editor) will appreciate it!
About the author: Nancy MacCreery is the author of the Scoops and Schemes series of novels. They feature a mix of action, intrigue, humor and romance. They are available at all ebook retailers, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Apple books store.
You can start out with an outline for your novel, but the story rarely turns out like you thought it would. Those pesky characters don't like to follow rules, even if we knew what they were. :)
Insights on writing, characters, humor and other tidbits from the author of the "Scoops and Schemes" series of novels.
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Nancy's books are available for Kindle, Nook and other e-readers. Find retailers here.