Studying famous leaders is recognised as a way of learning about leadership but would be leaders might gain far more from reading fiction. According to the author Val McDermid affectionately known as the “queen of crime” leaders risk becoming isolated from the real world, their power, status and affluence means they don’t experience life or work in the same way as the rest of us. She was referring to political leaders and the risk of being out of touch with the general public but there are parallels with business leaders.
At work the people who surround the boss are prone to protect them from the bad news, to just tell them what they think they want to hear. So the boss is the last to hear that the new computer system rather than increasing efficiency and providing more management information keeps crashing and as a result managers are having to run two systems the new one and the old one as a backup. The boss is the last to hear that the reorganisation they instigated has devastated moral as people are forced to apply for their own jobs or expected to move to the other end of the country to keep their job.
People’s experience of work doesn’t have to be that dramatic to be radically different to the boss. The senior management team retain their large offices as befits their status the rest of the organisation has been forced into hot desking in an effort to reduce office overheads. Even something as simple as car parking can provoke a revolt where the boss is unaware of the strength of feelings until protesting employees park in the spaces reserved for senior managers.
So how would reading a police procedural novel about tracking down a serial killer make you a better leader-it wouldn’t. But that’s not what the advice to read more fiction means. Reading fiction stimulates the imagination so helps the reader understand lives different to their own, helps them put themselves in another’s shoes. So before a senior manager makes decisions that impact on other people lives they are alive to how they would feel and react if it happen to them. They would still make unpopular decisions but they would be more thoughtful in how they went about it. And they certainly wouldn’t find themselves making a humiliating U turn because they failed to anticipate the strength of reaction to their original decision.