I have shelves and shelves of books on leadership and organizations in my office. Some I have picked up at conferences after hearing the author speak, many were recommended to me, and others I purchased while browsing the aisles of Barnes & Noble. But I must confess that very few of them have I read. I start out with the best intentions to read the book, learn new ideas or a new take on an old idea, and add a few new tools/models to my arsenal of leadership development resources. But inevitably I lose interest after a few chapters or find that there really isn’t anything new to learn from the book – or frankly I have a hard time staying awake long enough to read it.

So I was amused and vindicated to read a Fast Company blog post by Craig Chappelow on how reading fiction can teach you more about leadership than any business book, written by an author of leadership books no less! The author goes on to share the leadership lessons in a novel he recently read, Replay by Ken Grimwood. And several comments were posted listing other fiction and non-fiction literature that offer lessons in leadership. As I thought about the books that had an impact on me from a leadership perspective, I remembered how reading Lord of the Flies as a teenager led to spirited discussions about power, loyalty, and leadership in our classroom. And when my son read the book not long ago, our dinner conversations turned to these same topics as we debated the heroes and protagonists of the story. As Chappelow notes, that is how we can learn about leadership.

In our leadership development programs, we have used film clips to illustrate examples of great and not-so-great leadership because, just as in works of fiction, you can learn a lot from characters who demonstrate the worst of leadership as well. From Glory to A League of Their Own to Lincoln to Lord of the Rings, these character portrayals bring to life the lessons of leadership in a memorable and entertaining way that research statistics, models, and theory cannot.

We are often asked how learning and conversations on leadership can continue after the classroom training ends. Book discussions are a great way to do that and we often recommend leadership fables and other more readable business books for those discussions. What Chappelow’s post reminds me is that leadership lessons can be found in many places – literature, film, TED Talks, even some television. To really generate enthusiasm and a lively sharing of perspectives, selecting a novel or film for your next “lunch and learn” just might do the trick.

In what other places can we find lessons in leadership?
Please leave a comment to share.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

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