Thursday, March 25, 2010

Leaders as readers...

"The greatest leaders have always been readers. And not just any readers, but deep, thoughtful ones. In ancient times the likes of Pericles, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius and Hadrian were steeped in books. American history offers a host of enlightened readers: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and both Roosevelts. And British history yields much the same impression: Pitt the Younger, Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, Winston Churchill. Indeed, it's difficult to name great statesmen who shunned the written word and the cultural and civilisational heritage it represents." 
  - Macgregor Duncan and Andrew Leigh, The Australian, March 3, 2010.
I'm a strong believer in reading for leading. Reading - fiction, non-fiction, poetry, mass media, whatever -  informs personal and professional development in so many ways. 
The authors of the story quoted above went on to find out what our own politicians like to read, saying Australia has produced merely 'serviceable' leaders, rather than the Jeffersons, Lincolns and Churchills of this world.
After polling our pollies on their reading habits, these were the top novels:
Favourite books:
Tony Abbott (Leader of the Opposition): Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
Lindsay Tanner (Finance Minister): War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
Julia Gillard (Deputy Prime Minister): Cloudstreet, Tim Winton
Nick Minchin (Opposition Senate Leader): War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
Chris Bowen (Human Services Minister): The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck and To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Andrew Laming (Liberal MP): Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Peter Garrett (Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts): March, Geraldine Brooks
Alex Hawke (Federal Member for Mitchell): Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
Chris Pyne (Federal Member for Sturt): Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
Maxine McKew (Member for Bennelong): Middlemarch, George Eliot
Tanya Plibersek (Minister for Housing and Minister for the Status of Women): Persuasion, Jane Austen
Joe Hockey (Shadow Treasurer): Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Hmmm.... a fairly predictable collection, with the brave exception of Alex Hawke. I'm just relieved that any of our politicians take the time to read fiction. It is, as British philosopher Edmund Burke said, a pathway into the "moral imagination", enabling an appreciation of the human condition and an understanding of one's deepest self. 
Our 'leaders' have a way to go yet.
So, if reading helps one become a better leader - what books should our pollies get stuck into?

NB: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who has purportedly written a book (!) didn't respond to the survey.

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