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Why Leaders Should Read Great Literature

Alan Brew

This piece previously appeared on CEO.com

“So many books, so little time."

Among the many unlikely but memorable things Frank Zappa said in his lifetime, this remark comes back to torment me every January.

There are so many great books to read. And there goes yet another year of your life, gone forever. You still haven’t read War and Peace, or Remembrance of Things Past, or any of those great works of towering genius you promised yourself you would read in your lifetime.

The challenge for any busy person is not just one of time, but also of priorities.

I’ve tried to make it a habit in my working life to read regularly what is regarded as “good literature” — partly as an antidote for the deadening banality of emails, tweets, Facebook posts, blog rants and the web, but mainly just to clear the nostrils of fetid business language and breath the sweet air of inspired writing about the human experience.

Reading good literature is a deeply enjoyable experience and I am convinced it makes me a better consultant. I believe that to read widely, wisely and more fully from the great writers makes you better equipped to make creative, insightful and educated decisions.

You don’t have to take my word for it, either. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that supports this view. According to a report in Time magazine, recent research in cognitive science, psychology and neuroscience indicates that “deep reading” — as opposed to the superficial reading we often do online — is a distinctive experience that is good for our brains and that fiction makes us “better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective.”

The moral and emotional dilemmas that are the stuff of great literature might not necessarily be found in books on branding and marketing strategy or while scrolling through Buzzfeed.

So this year put aside those dreary business tomes. Read T.S. Eliot, Edith Wharton, Henry James and Graham Greene. They will help you get a grip on life.

When you read, you develop an ability to live in the present. You will be better able to bring yourself as a person, whole and entire, to any situation and make better decisions in life and in business.

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