Leaders, read fiction! I encourage you to do this not only because it’s relaxing and fun, but because it will help you become a better leader. I recently discovered this to be true in my life, and I want you to consider doing it as well.
THINKING TRUTH VS. FEELING TRUTH
God has wired me to be a thinker. I work as an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley, so thinking linearly and logically is expected of me. Since logic is the way that life interacts with me at work, it tends to be my default mode of interacting with life outside of work. The problem is that God has not created me to be a thinker only. Of course He wants me to interact with the world with my head, but he also wants my heart and soul to be involved. This is where fiction comes to my assistance.
A well-written novel has the ability to draw me into its plotline and capture my imagination in a way that brings my emotions along with it. I find myself becoming much more emotionally engaged with truth when identifying with a character in a novel, than I do when I read a logically reasoned truth in one of the theological works I am most prone to read. Don’t get me wrong, a well-reasoned theological work is helpful, but novels that convey deep truth help me to not only understand that truth but also to feel it.
AN EXAMPLE OF POWERFUL FICTION
Recently I began reading Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor. One scene in Wise Blood has challenged me recently. After introducing the main character, Hazel Motes, and explaining his background as the grandson of a preacher, O’Connor tells of a sermon preached by Hazel’s grandfather. In the sermon, his grandfather proclaims that Jesus will, “never let him forget he was redeemed.” His grandfather asks the question, “What did the sinner think there was to be gained? Jesus would have him in the end.”
O’Connor writes this in such a way as to indicate that a sinner like Hazel has no way to escape Jesus’ grip. That Jesus will chase Hazel forever, never leaving him alone. O’Connor makes it clear that Hazel feels as if Jesus is not loving him, but haunting Him. Then comes the most insightful line I have read in a long time as O’Connor writes that “The boy [Hazel] didn’t need to hear it. There was already a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.”
That line hit me like a ton of bricks. It gave me the very helpful insight that for some people, religion is a way that they fool themselves into thinking they are earning their way to God, when in reality it is their attempt to find a way to avoid Jesus. They think that if they can avoid sin, then they don’t really need Jesus. This allows them to remain Lord of their own life, while avoiding the guilt and shame they would feel from sin.
This different way of thinking is helpful as I minister to people within the church. It helps me to approach life-less Christians with a fresh set of eyes and a deeper understanding of what might be behind their lifeless-ness. I don’t believe that this would have impacted me as much if it had been merely stated as a fact. The fact that this was presented in a story drew out my feelings so that I was in a place where that line would hit me the way it did. Fiction can certainly draw out emotions in a way that other literature cannot, but this is not the only advantage I see to reading fiction.
Below are 4 reasons I encourage you to read fiction along with an explanation why I think this is helpful for leaders.
1ST REASON TO READ FICTION: It exercises our ability to enter a story and feel with it.
WHY THIS HELPS LEADERS: This gives us an increased ability to connect with people’s real life stories and feel with them.
2ND REASON TO READ FICTION: It gets the creative juices flowing.
WHY THIS HELPS LEADERS: This helps leaders to connect with people who are wired differently than us through stories, examples, and illustrations.
3RD REASON TO READ FICTION: It illustrates and highlights human nature on a deeper level than mere linear reasoning can.
WHY THIS HELPS LEADERS: This gives us an insight into our people’s hearts so that we can appreciate and address their wounds in a much more understanding way.
4TH REASON TO READ FICTION: It gets you more deeply in touch with your emotions.
WHY THIS HELPS LEADERS: This allows us to exercise feeling through reading rather than exercising mere logic when we read.
Leaders, read fiction! It will help you lead well.