Leaders Are Readers, But They Need More Than Leadership Books

“Leaders are readers.” It’s a leadership truism. I’ve noticed in my leadership circles that many pastors and business leaders feel guilty of they are reading something other than leadership literature. Somehow reading anything else feels impractical or even an inefficient use of time.

It’s time to challenge that line of thinking. Here’s three reasons why it might be time for leaders to branch out and read some good fiction:

Good stories reveal the human condition. By the time I finished my degree in Biblical Studies I was burnt out on Greek, Hebrew, and Systematic Theology. For a diversion I picked up Crime and Punishment and then The Brother’s Karamazov and then virtually everything Dostoevsky wrote. I was enthralled by this artist would painted the human condition so well. His saints had flaws. His sinners had a noble streak. He told stories that captured simultaneous depravity and nobility of humanity. His pictures were more powerful than any theology book I’d ever read. A leadership or theology book can help us know the parameters of human behavior. A story empowers us to feel them.

Good stories provide analogies for counseling. The next time I meet a man going through a mid-life crisis I’m handing him How to Live Safely in a Science-Fictional World by Charles Yu. Yu used the fictional device of a time machine to explain how we tend to get stuck in the past whether its a regret, a moment that defies repeating, or the instant a dream is about to bloom. This novel tells truth with more speed, beauty, and truth than 20 hours of counseling ever could.

Good stories are “wasteful.” There’s nothing wrong with a Sabbath from the mantle of leadership. It’s healthy to not think about the office. The work of good literature is hidden. Story by story a moral compass wired into the grey matter. Good literature, as we discussed, reveals truth about humanity, illuminates morality, and reminds us all that meaning is found in the struggle.

So leaders, every third or fourth book, do yourself a favor and download a novel and let it work on you.

What “impractical” books are you reading now?  


  • J.C. Thompson

    Totally agree Larry!!!

    Great post. I just committed to reading thru the Hunger Games series before I go back to any leadership books. 

    Read thru book number 1 and I totally agree with everyone of your points. The biggest being the human condition. Sometimes leadership books cause us to grow cold or even think of people more as machines rather than people. Fiction book number 1 has shown me that already.

    Great post as always.

    • Anonymous

      Those are strong books. Katniss’ emotional journey was fascinating. And it’s just a great breezy page turner as well.

  • Anonymous

    Dude.  You read Dostoevsky “as a diversion”???  Back in my 20s I accidentally left _The Brothers Karamazov_ on a restaurant table, realized it before I got to the door, and left it there anyway!  At the time I characterized it as “people I don’t like, whining for hundreds and hundreds of pages.”  Maybe I was just too young.   I probably need to give Big D another chance. 

    • Anonymous

      Give it time and patience. It is a ridiculously thick book. For a few years
      I made this an annual read and I found that I picked up steam with multiple