Leaders Read

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I’ve always been a reader: fiction, non-fiction, comic books–seriously, anything I can get my hands on. I think a person who is a steady consumer of books is opening their mind in a way that’s not possible any other way. Watching videos and listening to lectures has their place, but books are the gateway because the printed words can only come alive in your own mind. No one has PowerPoint or YouTube videos to shape your imagination, you have to give life to the words on the page yourself.

Leaders can benefit from this concept because through books and the exercise of the mind that goes with reading, leaders can refine their own style and learn from others. As the great British humorist and moralist G. K. Chesterton once said, Learn from other’s mistakes, you don’t have time to make them all yourself.

Now, it seems Rochelle Ballis (and science) over at Forbes Magazine agrees with me:

According to Forbes:

It turns out that you develop skills from reading fiction that simply do not emerge from consuming other forms of content. Reading literary fiction is strongly correlated with a higher capacity to understand what’s going on in other people’s heads, a talent often referred to as “theory of mind.”

In 2006 York University psychologist Raymond Mar and his colleague performed a study that examined lifetime exposure to both fiction and non-fiction. They found that engaging with fiction positively correlated to greater emotional empathy, while reading non-fiction did not. In 2009, Mar re-confirmed his results, and went on to prove that the link between reading literature and “theory of mind” persisted even if you control for the possibility that empathetic people might choose to read more fiction.

While television has the power to entertain, it doesn’t share the same socialization benefits as reading a book. In fact, recent research suggests television may actually weaken our understanding of other people’s desires or beliefs.

For me, there have been many books that have shaped how I think about leadership. To name a few, they are: The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien), Starship Troopers (Heinlein), The Defense of Hill 781 (McDonough), the Bible (God), and War As I Knew It (Patton). So tell me in the comment section what books have most impacted your personal or leadership development? It doesn’t have to be non-fiction, it can be anything–inquiring minds want to know!

I Really Don’t Like Meetings

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I know, I know, sometimes meetings are necessary, but in my experience very little actual work gets done in most meetings. Yes, of course, senior leaders still need to be informed, so the “status/update brief” is a necessary component of running most large organizations. Yes, sometimes we need to have a meeting to set the stage for something else (like a project kickoff meeting). I don’t mean those.

So having granted the required caveats, I’ll say it again… I really don’t like meetings. I don’t like them because very often they’re not run effectively. Writing in Forbes Magazine (h/t Inc.com) coach / consultant Christine Comaford shares my meeting-aversion:

Too often, participants waste time with what could’ve been relayed via e-mail, social networks, or water-cooler conversation. Debating and sharing can be fruitful activities, but a meeting is the wrong setting. “The goal isn’t to solve detailed problems in the meeting,” notes Comaford. “It’s to assign responsibilities based on requests and promises made.”

Read the rest.

For a meeting to be truly effective, I’d recommend the following prescription:

1. Be prepared.

Read ahead slides / agenda sent to all principal attendees in enough time so that everyone has the opportunity to read and make their own notes.

2. The staff work is done before the attendees walk into the room.

Discussions and if necessary, arguments, happen well in advance. The meeting table is no place for groping for a way ahead, particularly when there are lots of subordinates in the room. It is a place for unemotionally laying out the pros and cons of an issue and making a fact-based decision. Staff work is for one-on-ones & and written communication.

3. Keep to the agenda.

It’s easy to get off the subject. Don’t. The best meetings are those that get to the point then get out of there. Meetings cost money, don’t let your organization bleed money by consuming unnecessary time.