Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a hot topic trending in #futureofwork discussions for leadership and management. Could reading fiction bring your EQ up? I checked in with Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein, a college professor of English literature for over 30 years and author of 20 books across a wide variety of genres. He’s also my dad, which means I’ve been road testing his wisdom for decades (and it does end up being spot-on).
It may sound strange, but reading fiction is one of the best ways for you to learn how to be a leader.
Reading fiction is a perfect rehearsal for reality. As readers, we follow the dramatic situations in which characters find themselves. If the writing is good, we identify with the characters. We root for them. We think along with them. We learn to understand their drives. And the more characters we understand, the better we are at understanding new people we meet. Reading, that is, develops our empathy muscles. We get strong in feeling what others feel.
If you can understand what inspires and motivates the people you are trying to lead, you will do a better job. You will understand their goals and desires and help them find a path to get there.
Fiction got to understanding people before psychology did. The more you can explain a character the more can understand and relate to another person. In particular, you will know your customer or client’s needs. Have you ever noticed in a book or movie that you sometimes know more about a character than the character knows about herself? That’s how the best fiction works. You know what products or services your client needs before they even realize they want or need them. The greatest entrepreneurs are the ones who can recognize that need and create a product or service ahead of clients understanding that they even want such a product or need such a service.
I’ve just explored all this because I published my first mystery novel, a novella titled The Gallery of Missing Husbands. My new novel is an historical mystery. The book is set on the Lower East Side of New York in 1914. I loved doing the research for the book because the era I wrote about was a time of great change in an area of crowded streets and amazing people. Reading historical fiction separates readers from their own time and place. That gives them a perspective on their era and insights in how their culture shapes them and their customers.
I realized as I wrote that readers might learn a lot about various emotions that are especially prominent in a mystery. I dealt with guilt, the complex family lives my characters lead, the self-doubt, and the search for truth and finding out what’s right.
I understood that people could read my mystery novel just for entertainment. But they could also learn lessons about how humans think and feel, lessons that would make them savvier in business and more self-assured about being leaders.
What lessons about life and/or leadership have you learned from reading fiction? Leave a comment below!
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