What was the last novel you read? Today, many of us are so busy and so consumed by our career and family responsibilities that even thinking about sitting down and spending a few hours reading for pleasure seems a distant fantasy, at best.

However, for those who aspire to be the self-actualized leaders, reading is an activity that provides benefits of a high order. Recent studies have shown that reading literary fiction in particular enriches our perspective in a way that can positively impact those we interact most closely with.

For today’s leaders, empathy is a crucial trait. Everyone displays it to a certain extent, but those of us who are able to really feel that deep connection with the other and translate that understanding into actions and words towards that person, have the real advantage.

This is because today’s employees need more than a raise. They need to be understood as whole people. Each individual employee wants to feel like they are being nurtured and are growing as people at their jobs, not simply being ridden like a mule for one solitary purpose.

This means acknowledging each employee as a whole person. It means displaying an implicit understanding that each person you deal with throughout your day has an inner life as complicated and varied as you do.

Reading literary fiction gives the brain work to do. Beyond typically dealing with very real world human stuff, it doesn’t spell everything out for you. The attraction is more in the nuances of our shared feelings and experiences than in popular fiction where the attraction is based in action and fantasy.

As The Guardian points out, “Fiction is not just a simulator of social experience, it is a social experience.” As simple as it may seem, reading books with complicated, nuanced characters reminds us that this is how real life is. Our employees aren’t merely there to drink coffee and meet deadlines. They have problems and passions just like you.

Simply being aware of this fact and carrying this idea with you will make you a better, more compassionate leader. Your employees will read it in your behavior and respond to it accordingly.

Do you have any recommendations for great literary fiction reads? I’m always looking for good books. Let me know in the comments.

photo credit: Eugene Public Library Interior 2 via photopin (license)