Episode 188 | How Reading Fiction Will Make You A Better Leader | Melanie Bell

Reading fiction will make you a better leader

This is a topic we have never covered before on the Team Guru Podcast – how reading fiction can contribute to our development as a leader.

Not only is it a convincing thesis – reading great stories really can help our personal development – but it was also a wonderful opportunity for me to geek out with a fellow lover of reading.

Melanie Bell is indeed a lover of literature. She is also a leadership expert who has honed in on this powerful concept. We had a fabulous chat. Listen on the media player above – or however you get your pods – and see below for the highlights of our conversation.

Lessons Learned

Why does reading fiction make us a better leader?

When we are reading, our brains go into simulation mode. That doesn’t happen when we’re watching movies or TV shows. Our brain is wired to identify with the protagonist. With our brain in simulation mode, we get to walk through – to ‘live’ – these situations and consequences that we would not otherwise have the opportunity to experience.

Books fast-track our life experience. 

Often, non-fiction writers, especially business authors, seek to breakdown life’s complexities into core essentials – how do we communicate this quickly and make the problems clear? But life is not like that. Life is messy. As leaders we’re constantly dealing with grey areas. Things don’t work in real-life like they do in text books.

Fiction writers explore complex problems from multiple perspectives – the simulation mode. Morale complexity. That’s how life is! 

“I could tell that as I read more novels I started to have different types of client interactions. I could tell in my communication, presence and confidence that I was showing up in a really different way.”


How can we ensure our reading enhances our leadership?

If you’re into spreadsheets and keeping records – go for it, formalise the lessons you learn through fiction and how they apply to your leadership. Sure.

But if making it a formal pursuit may taint your pleasure of reading, then don’t. Don’t make it a formal process. Simply continue to read, reflect on the events you are experiencing through novels, and let those experience infiltrate you as a person and leader.

Melanie tracks what she reads in order to hold herself to account and to help her remember what she’s read. But the most important thing she does in this space is to talk to people about it. She shares with others what she has read, the lessons she’s learned, what it means to her and they way she navigates life. It also gives her the benefit of other people’s interpretations of the same text.


Melanie’s book recommendations

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

“OMG! I wish we had read this in business school because it would have been better in all of these leadership classes than studying the biographies of GE’s former CEOs.”

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

This is the book that cemented Melanie’s understanding of the link between reading fiction and developing as a leader.

Nuggets of gold:

How can we best leverage the advantages fiction brings to our life?

  1. If you don’t have a reading habit – get started. Just try it. Pick a book that you might like and get into it. If you don’t like a book, stop reading it and pick something else.
  2. Choose a book and read it with a friend or a group – and talk about it. Reading is great – but it’s even more rewarding when you’re able to talk about it with other people.
  3. Recognise that you’re human and you do need to have some time that is unproductive – so if reading isn’t for you, then let it go and try something else.

Connect with Melanie:

Melanie Bell – Melanie is the Co-Founder of Strategic Piece and the Founder of Leaders Who Fiction, a remote book club project specially designed for individuals and organizations to develop leadership skills through reading fiction. She wants to spread the word on how reading fiction allows others to develop empathy and critical thinking, hence becoming more impactful leaders.




Connect with David: 

David Frizzell on Linkedin

David Frizzell on Twitter


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