When you look to expand your potential as a leader, what experts come to mind? Marshall Goldsmith, maybe? Jim Collins? Jim Kouzes? These are some of my heroes – mentors, even – and their books line my shelves.
While I am routinely recommending Marshall’s “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”, Jim’s “Good to Great”, and Kouzes and Posner’s “The Leadership Challenge”, I have to confess that my biggest shifts have come from someplace else: the wisdom texts.
Wisdom texts are those masterpieces of insight so powerful as to be almost spiritual. You don’t find them in the business section of the library. They come from places like
I love May Sarton. Rumi. Marge Piercy. Siddhartha. The Tao Te Ching. The Prophet.
And if all of that’s too deep for you, I have clients who find their inspiration in much lighter places! The cartoon Dillard, the rock band Train, and that original executive coach, Jiminy Cricket.
When we read too many books on business and leadership, we fill our heads with what other people think. That’s good – it stretches our minds. Opens us to new ideas. Fine.
Reading outside business and leadership, though, can expand your horizons far further. As Dave Olsen, the Senior Vice President of Culture and Leadership Development at Starbucks says, “Don’t just read the stuff in airport bookstores. Read Lao Tzu.”
A line of poetry can cause you to think in ways you never have before – perhaps thoughts no one else has thought. Mythical stories can encourage creative thinking about how ancient lessons can help unsnarl us from our problems today.
Just for fun, let’s give it a shot. I am including a poem that I love, called “You Reading This, Be Ready,” by William Stafford. As you read this poem, don’t try to figure out the “meaning,” and don’t worry about whether or not you “like” poetry. Just read it. Then ask yourself…are you ready? And what are you ready for?
You Reading This, Be Ready
By William Stafford
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life—
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
Did you enjoy this profile? You may be interested in the eCourse, Getting an Edge: 21 Ways World Class Leaders Share Their Secrets for Leading and Living Well. Each of 21 profiles just like this one comes in a separate email – once a day for 21 days.