Why reading fiction creates good leaders

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18 January, 2021

Val Mc Dermid’s comments (Fiction readers have made the best leaders in Covid-19 crisis, says Val McDermid, 16 August) struck a chord with me. Once, decades ago, I was sent on a work-based software engineering course. Most of those attending, myself included, were bemused by the course leader spending half of the first day on what felt like literary criticism. He was not interested in what textbooks we read, but was particularly interested in what fiction we read, how much, and how varied our literary tastes were. A few of us were asked to sum up in a few words the plot of a favourite work of fiction, or what we thought of it.

There were questions from us, of course. “Why are we doing this? What has it to do with software or engineering?” The answer was revealed as the morning reached its end. We were told: “To write a good report or lead a great project, a great department or even a company needs an ability to express ideas in words in a variety of ways, to suit an audience, to understand the viewpoints of others and to avoid jargon. Reading fiction helps this ability to develop far better than any other form.”

I fear that a generation of leaders emerging recently lack this essential skill, and McDermid rightly calls them out on this. I fear it will only get worse as rising generations are brought up on the thin gruel of short-form internet-based communication.

This article was previously published in The Guardian.