Leaders are readers. We need a steady input of new ideas, dialogue with bright minds, people to challenge our perspectives, and the contemplative reflection reading makes possible. For the past few years, most of my vocational reading has focused on leadership and evangelism – my primary professional passions. But within those subjects, a particular genre has been important to my personal and professional growth – biographies.
Reading biographies has shaped my perspective on God’s providential ways of working with and through people. Here are some personal examples.
Reading biographies has shown me how God uses flawed people. One of my mistakes as a younger leader was to dismiss other leaders who made mistakes (and fear my own disqualification if I made too many mistakes). It is astounding, however, how God uses flawed people to do amazing things. Good biographies are “warts and all” stories recording “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” All leaders are a mixed bag of strengths/weaknesses and positives/ negatives. And yet, God uses them anyway – getting the best from them despite their worst qualities.
Reading biographies has taught me to be more resilient. Many leaders, often through no fault of their own, have experienced devastating setbacks. From lost elections to failed businesses to deaths of spouses or children – many rising leaders have been beaten down by life’s circumstances. But they persevered. Their resilience led to ultimate life impact. In many cases, the character formed through their most difficult struggles was essential preparation for future effectiveness.
Reading biographies has also lengthened my expectation of the time it takes for dreams, ideas, and goals to come to fruition. My impatience is legendary – as anyone who knows me well will testify. Biographies layout an entire life – from formative family constellations to end-of-life reflections. Seeing that panoramic view has helped me have a broader (and more patient) perspective of my overall life trajectory.
Choosing biographies, given the large number of options, might seem overwhelming. Start with award-winning books about people who intrigue you or who are from areas of life that interest you. For example, I read biographies of American presidents, religious leaders (from broad backgrounds), and industry-changing corporate leaders. The people in these categories connect with me on several levels. This kind of reading is so enjoyable it has become more a hobby than work. I’ve already finished two new biographies in 2022!
If you need to re-charge or re-shape your reading plan, consider prioritizing biographies as one important way to learn about life, leadership, and God’s providential ways of working through our lives. Leaders read for personal and professional growth, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be enjoyable. Consider adding biographies to your leadership and personal development reading plan.