Reading books is a leisure activity for many, but this habit has taken a backseat in recent times, with hectic work schedules, blurred lines between professional and personal lives in remote-work models and the onslaught of content on OTT giants. While ardent bibliophiles will always stick to paperbacks, in a generation which constantly craves instant gratification, TV shows and films based on books have become the go-to jam.
But no one can deny that there is a certain charm to reading a book, turning each page, imagining the characters in your mind’s eye, predicting the twists and turns and, slowly, losing yourself in the narrative, forgetting your troubles. And with most of us spending so much time on screens during office hours, it is only advisable to let go of the visual medium during off-work hours and immerse yourself in a book to see the magic unfold.
While every individual has their own preference in terms of writers, genres and plots they can relate to, we list out a few books that we believe have lessons useful for employees, employers, HR leaders and other stakeholders at the workplace.
The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
Lessons: Listening to employees, importance of family ties, and the art of diplomacy
The book begins as a tale of blackmail, betrayal and murder set in 1940s criminal underworld, and then the readers are sucked into the story about the rise of Vito Corleone to Don Corleone or The Godfather. It is indeed a success story about a man, starting his life with nothing and becoming something. And that is all that we want from our work, to make something that we are proud of. So, what do we learn from this classic?
Family comes first: Never let go of your familial ties, no matter how difficult it may get. And it does get pretty difficult for Vito Corleone to keep up with his sons, Santino (Sonny) Corleone, Fredo Corleone, Michael Corleone, son-in-law Carlo Rizzi and godson Johnny Fontane. But he perseveres. Most of us always knew how important our family is, but the pandemic made us appreciate them more. Unlike the pre-Covid era, where work was all that was on our mind, now, we are eager to find work-life balance.
Listening to all: The rise of Vito Corleone’s power and fortune can be attributed to his listening skills - the man never fails to listen to anyone, who comes knocking at his door and that too with respect, no matter the stature. With the hybrid model in place and half of us working remotely and the other half in office, listening to employees is crucial to address their grievances, issues and to bring each employee on the same page. Managers and HR leaders must make an effort towards inclusivity, keeping their doors open and allowing for an uninterrupted exchange of ideas. As many leaders would reveal, sometimes the best ideas are churned out by freshers and business graduates with no prior experience.
Finding direction with diplomacy: There are several instances throughout the book where Vito and, later, Michael Corleone navigate through powerful people, without letting their emotions come into play. We all have days when we are bogged down with deadlines and targets, and want to lash out at our peers and our bosses. But is it wise, or does it help? If you feel overwhelmed, take a break, talk to your friends, watch a funny video and let the frustration dissipate. Managers should also try and be understanding and lenient towards their employees, to build loyalty in the long run and a positive work culture.
Emotional intelligence and leadership: In the beginning of the book, one would often wonder why all of Vito Corleone’s chosen men are simple, unpolished Italian-Americans, but as you read on, you understand that each of them had the ability to see through people and understand their motives. In today’s time, when there is a war for talent, HR leaders and employers need to catch the nerve of each of their employees to be able to offer them what they want and need, for overall happiness, wellbeing, improved productivity and to retain talent in the long-run.
Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling
Lessons: Learning, reassessing, being fearless and letting your unique abilities shine though
Harry Potter might be a children’s book but there is something magical about losing yourself in the wizarding world created by JK Rowling. On days, when you are feeling low, this book with life lessons on courage, love and friendship can be your perfect companion. The triumph of the protagonist against all odds with You-Know-Who makes one feel that everything is indeed possible. Well, let’s find out what we can learn from this treasure trove.
Stay curious, always: For the longest time (11 years to be precise), Harry didn’t know he was a wizard. Even after getting into Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he was unaware of the ways of the wizarding world since he was raised by muggles. But he never stopped learning. The world is changing and with the advent of technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and metaverse, employees need to learn constantly and upskill to stay relevant.
Reassess at every turn: Harry Potter was a bit impulsive when it came to decision-making because he had a thirst to prove himself. But he never let the outcome of those decisions bog him down. He would think about where he went wrong and then get back to life. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes, but employees should never let that hinder their progress. Garner feedback from your peers and colleagues about your work, analyse where you went wrong, learn from it and get back in the game. As they say, no one can help you if you don’t help yourself.
Be bold and fearless: Most of us are hesitant and shy at workplaces, more so now on Zoom calls where a large number of employees are logged in and keeping a tab on everyone’s progress and giving them personal attention poses a challenge for managers. But employees need to try and share their perspectives and opinions, whenever they are in disagreement because that’s how teams can brainstorm and come up with innovative ideas. Don’t let fear cripple you and just like Harry, face your worst fears head-on.
Strength in diversity: Each employee has special abilities and unique attributes, and organisations today are recognising the difference and becoming inclusive. To build a successful team, you don’t just need brains, but individuals who can communicate, explain, seek help, respect and acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of each member in the team. The reason Harry, Hermione and Ron’s trio was able to overcome each and every obstacle through the series was because each of them was unique and they were unafraid to show it.
The Lord Of The Rings, by JRR Tolkien
Lessons: Keep that fighting spirit alive, trust your team and never give up
If you are looking for hope, there isn’t a better book than this classic. Frodo Baggins, a hobbit living in the beautiful Shire, had an easy life, but when the Ruling Ring was entrusted to his care, he took the perilous journey to Mount Doom to destroy the Dark Lord and save Middle Earth. This book has more life-lessons than I can summarise, but I will try to keep it short.
Fight another day: Most of us were working countless hours during the pandemic to keep up with the new normal. And with the hybrid model, there are quite a few challenges ahead. But each stakeholder needs to remember that you can never give up, because the success or milestone that you have been waiting to achieve might just be within your reach before you decided to give up. It gets tough to get out of bed and find that energy, with the economic crisis and war going on in the world. But you have to keep going like Frodo, even when you have no energy, even when all you see is darkness and even when there is no chance that you might succeed. In the end, you need to know in your heart that you gave your best.
Trust and team-building: For any organisation to run smoothly, trust among their team members is essential. Throughout the book, we see how the fellowship comprising Gandalf, Samwise, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli and Legolas sticks together, no matter what. Each of these individuals have their own tasks, share strong opinions and don’t have a lot in common with each other, but they are able to look at the bigger picture - a peaceful world at last. While leaders should encourage more team-building sessions, team members should be able to display their vulnerabilities to their mates. Only if you know someone will you be able to form a bond with them.
Nurturing mentors: Behind every great employee is an employer, who took the time to impart his wisdom and teach the former all that he knew. While most employers would argue that there is no point in investing time in an employee if they are going to ultimately leave the organisation in a few months, you still have to try. Leaders also need to understand an employee’s circumstances, where she/he is coming from and how to help him/her have a comfortable workspace for as long as they stay because employees don’t leave organisations, they leave their bosses. We read in the book how Gandalf helped Frodo every step of the way to find the best team and send help to him in all the ways possible, because he believed in Frodo and that he would come through.
The Catcher In The Rye, by JD Salinger
Lesson: Experiment, change, evolve till you find the right fit
If you have read this book, you might have felt that it is just ramblings of teenager Holden Caulfield. But there is much more depth to it. Holden is a peculiar character who never lets anyone influence his decisions. He says what he feels and is unperturbed by the opinions and expectations of the society.
One shoe size doesn’t fit all: It is something we have heard often but how many of us actually imbibes it in our lives, in an effort to stop comparing ourselves with our peers and friends. Every employee and organisation’s arc is different and while some taste success quite early on in life, others have to wait for it to come through. All of us have, at some point or the other, stayed in organisations that we didn’t like because we were worried about how it reflected in our CV and what conclusions recruiters would draw if there were too many gaps. But we often fail to realise that work is only a part of life and not your entire life. So make riskier choices, be brave and find your own definition of happiness. In the end, that is all that you will remember and cherish.