Written by Rosie Gailor - 11 December 2019
Can Gandalf help you get that placement? Can Miss Honey motivate you to smash your targets? Can Mary Poppins keep you on schedule? Of course they can!
While there are hundreds of business books out there that you can read in the name of self-improvement, you shouldn’t underestimate the value of a work of fiction. Leaders such as Barack Obama have talked about the benefits of reading fiction: "When I think about how I understand my role as citizen... the most important stuff I've learned I think I've learned from novels," Obama told the New York Review of Books.
A study published in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts found that reading literary fiction can help people to boost their emotional intelligence, giving them the potential to be better leaders. Even in the fiction you read growing up had an effect on your EQ, and will have had an influence on who you are today.
Harry Potter is offered sage advice by Professor Albus Dumbledore throughout JK Rowling’s infamous book series. Though not all of his magical lessons can apply to the average muggle’s working world (his advice for destroying an evil wizard isn’t going to help you with your email etiquette) there are some lessons to be learned from the Headmaster of Hogwarts.
“The best of us sometimes eat our words.”
For one thing, Dumbledore – a powerful leader in the books – owns his mistakes. You’re not always going to be right; sometimes you have to own up to mistakes or misgivings and apologise. Whether that’s missing a deadline, coming in late to work, or even mismanaging a project, it doesn’t matter how great you are at your job – you need to own up to your mistake and move on.
We all know her as the no-nonsense nanny that occasionally breaks into verse – each song carrying a new lesson that can be applied to all stages of life – but her work ethic can easily be applied to your own.
“Well begun is half-done”
If you plan carefully and don’t rush into your tasks, you’re already on your way to completing it – and completing it well. Take the time to do your research and get your ducks in a row before rushing in head-first to a situation or project you’re ill-prepared for. Ask all your questions, solidify your notes, and ask for help for any planning you need.
Throughout JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, Gandalf acts as a mentor to all characters in the Fellowship – though his advice is taken particularly to heart by Frodo Baggins, who remembers and follows all of Gandalf’s wisdom.
“The burned hand teaches best; that advice about fire goes to the heart.”
Sometimes you have to learn the hard way, or take the advice of someone who’s been there themselves. They can help you face similar challenges and impart their learnings to you.
Throughout Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Miss Honey takes Matilda under her wing, champions her skills and pushes her to take on new challenges during adversity.
“The whole object of life is to go forwards.”
This is probably the earliest lesson on failing fast you ever received (if you read the book). Every misstep or ‘failure’ is a learning opportunity in disguise – so don’t let setbacks hold you back. Start changing up your processes, take a second go, and see how far you can get when you try again.
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Rosie Gailor is a writer and editor based in London. She graduated with an MSc in creative writing from the University of Edinburgh in 2015. If you offer her a Jaffa Cake, she’ll always say yes.