Leadership Skills in Literature

Leadership Skills in Literature

Helpful for: Aspiring leaders

Read Time: 9 minutes

Quick Facts:

  • Many MBA students go into the program already with knowledge in basic accounting, cash flow, regression analysis. These quantitative tools are important to succeed in the business environment; however other powerful aspects such as using good judgement and a deeper understanding of human nature should not be disregarded. Do you believe these soft skills make a strong leader? 
  • The scientific model of business education focuses mainly on mathematical rigor. This method might help create strategies for financial evaluation however it is far away from advancing leadership and management skills.
  • Professor of Business ethics at HBS, John Shad uses literature to help his executive students address the challenges of modern leadership. When asked what motivated him to take this approach to teaching he shares:

Selected Quote:

It was a gamble. I was teaching a class on leadership, and I asked a group of very senior executives to read a short story by Joseph Conrad called “The Secret Sharer.” I had no idea whether the experiment would work. In my experience, I have found that many businesspeople associate literary discussions with abstruse academic talk and Freudian imagery… But it actually provides us with some of the most powerful and engaging case studies ever written. Serious fiction that has survived the test of time raises more questions than it answers. Think of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. You could learn as much about leadership from that play as you would from reading any business book or academic journal. Its lessons are certainly no less valuable and probably just as pragmatic.

Useful Information:

  • Reading relevant stories and novels will help you relate to a certain character’s values and reaffirm your leadership stance, inspire you to take the necessary action and help you see the big picture when assessing a challenge in the workplace.
  • “The Secret Sharer” by Joseph Conrad is about a captain who hides a killer on his ship he believes is innocent. By making this decision, he violates the rules of the sea but defends his moral judgement – a character trait he holds strongly. Senior executives commented that they often find themselves in similar scenarios in which they must balance the pros and cons of a decision which tests their limits but helps them become a better leader.
  • As Diane points out, taking responsibility sometimes means embracing your secret shadow or reflective side you forgot you had.

Check Out: 3 Mistakes That Women Leaders Avoid (Video)

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Source: Harvard Business Review


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