As a business professional, your to-read book list might include recent bestsellers like "Tribe of Mentors," "Principles," or "When." Alternatively, you might be rereading "Good to Great" or "Lean In." But unless you're balancing your nonfiction tomes with fictional tales, you're missing an opportunity to learn critical business lessons.

When you focus solely on corporate-oriented books, you're not tapping into your full potential. What your personal library needs is an infusion of myths and legends, rich sources of intellectual stimulation.

Don't have a background in comp lit? Haven't touched a Hemingway book since high school? It's never too late to reap the benefits that come from picking up a classic work filled with complex characters and compelling situations. In fact, by enlightening yourself through fiction, you can help your company remain competitive in your market.

Consider these three advantages to reading works of creative writing that will change the way you make decisions and carry yourself on the job and in everyday life.

1. You'll learn to spot -- and emulate -- smart leadership.

As a professor of classical languages and literature at Sarah Lawrence College, Emily Anhalt is a firm proponent of using literature to guide human understanding. Works such as the "Odyssey" teach readers to avoid people who rule by fear and violence, emphasizing instead the need for those in power to practice respectful principles that promote happiness and loyalty.

"The 'Odyssey' reminds us that leaders deserve our respect, admiration, and support for leading well," Anhalt explained in a recent article. "Good leadership, as the 'Odyssey' depicts it, requires and promotes mutual respect and reciprocity."

2. You'll find it easier to craft your own story.

Every business has its own tale to tell, but most executives and even marketers make crafting stories that showcase this uniqueness harder than it has to be. Blackbeard Studios founder Erin Berman, a brand storyteller that has worked with Hyperloop and other clients with a national reach, bluntly explains that the main storytelling archetypes have been used for millennia, and the best stories have already been told.

That may seem like bad news, but Berman says the opposite is true. Well-worn narrative paths actually make it easier for business leaders to develop a story about their brand. As Berman notes, "You don't need to reinvent the wheel, just fill in the blanks. ...You'll find that you will be able to play 'Mad Libs' with how your organization best fits into the mindset of your specific audience. Maybe a rags-to-riches story resonates with them, or maybe the story of the underdog -- think David vs. Goliath." Don't worry about creating a new story; instead, use time-honored literary examples to create a memorable one.

3. You'll strengthen your performance through emotional intelligence.

The notion of emotional intelligence has roots in the principle that some people understand their fellow human beings better than others and can empathize on a higher level than their peers. According to researchers at Emory University, stories help readers learn how to connect imagination and real-world occurrences. This, in turn, allows them to remember how book characters felt and behaved and to use their reading experiences to anticipate others' reactions and emotions.

Anne Kreamer, author of "It's Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace," is a big believer in literature's power to improve emotional intelligence. In an article in Harvard Business Review, Kreamer observes that the ability to thoroughly and honestly commiserate -- an ability fiction reading hones -- can help you become a top performer.

Feel like you've turned a cold shoulder to the fiction in your local library? Have dusty volumes of classical literature from your college years lining your bookshelves? Make a point to dive into the world's best stories to expand your horizons and move you closer to becoming the leader, brand storyteller, and top performer you know you're meant to be.

Published on: Feb 19, 2018
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