One piece of advice I give to my Northwestern Kellogg students (as well as my children but not sure I get their attention 😉) is the importance of reading as broad an array of books as possible on a consistent basis. And to be clear, I am not talking about business books. Yes, if you are in business, it is a good idea to know the business basics. However, if you are interested in becoming a well-rounded global leader, I believe it is critical to have a broad understanding of history, political science, religion, philosophy — in fact all of the liberal arts.

I personally recommend books ranging from Walter Isaacson’s “Einstein” to Erik Larson’s “The Splendid and the Vile” (regarding Churchill) to Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” (although I admit I am still trying to understand Hawking’s book 😉). If you’re interested, I have shared on my website a list of additional books that I recommend.

As most of you know, I consider myself very fortunate to have attended Lawrence University, a wonderful small college in Appleton, Wisconsin where I gained a great appreciation for the liberal arts. I remember clearly on my first day as a college freshman the university president proclaiming that the goal of the university was to give us the tools that would enable us to continuously educate ourselves for the rest of our lives. Fittingly, Lawrence’s motto is “Light! More Light!”

Appreciating liberal arts has had a significant impact on both my personal and professional development throughout my life. For example, during my years at Baxter International, I often traveled around the world. I would make sure that I did not visit a country management team, suppliers, customers, or government officials without having some understanding of the history, the culture, the politics, the religions, and philosophy of that specific country. Why? Because I strongly believe that effective leadership requires you to be able to influence others, and the ability to influence others requires you to truly relate to others. How can you relate to others if you do not understand and appreciate their background, culture, and history?

Given the constantly changing global environment, I find it helpful to get as many perspectives as possible on as many topics as possible. How can you operate in a global business without understanding the implications of what could happen between China and Taiwan or Russia and Ukraine? How about climate change, global health, cybersecurity, migration, nuclear proliferation? I could go on and on.

While on vacation up in the northern Wisconsin woods last week I had the opportunity to read an excellent book by Richard Haas, “The World: A Brief Introduction.” Haas is the President of the Council on Foreign Relations and does a wonderful job of providing a clear, balanced perspective as he circles the globe. As he summarizes in his teaching notes for the book:

The World…focuses on crucial history, what makes each region of the world tick, the many challenges that globalization presents, and the most influential countries, events, and ideas that shape the world and in turn shape our lives.” I highly recommend it!

Here’s wishing you a great rest of the week!


Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash