July 14, 2010
Refueling Your Hungry Mind

Photo by austinevan

At the Indiana Humanities Council, we always have food on our minds.  Since launching the statewide “Food for Thought” initiative earlier this year, our team and thousands of Hoosiers have been obsessed with thinking, reading and talking about the ways food has shaped Indiana’s culture and defines our common humanity.  We often think of food in the most literal sense, as sustenance for our body but, in our work, we initiate programs that feed the mind.  This food/mind/body inquiry has challenged us to wonder – is feeding the mind an important component of leadership?  And, if so, what is the perfect food?

In my observation, fighting leadership fatigue and satisfying our mental hunger requires a steady diet of inspiration and new ideas.  Effective leadership requires the ability to chart and communicate a vision, solve complex problems, and motivate and support members of the team.   Honing these skills is a perpetual process, one that requires diligence and constant renewal.  So, where do you find inspiration?  The next time your leadership reservoir is beginning to feel empty – fuel up by opening a book – the perfect food.
Reading is fuel for the mind and indispensable for the leader.   Reading provides something we all need – perspective.  Experiencing how authors solve problems and interpret situations provides insight, challenges our assumptions and can inspire new ways of problem solving.  There’s also great comfort in realizing that we are not the first human beings to experience and overcome adversity.
“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” 
Ralph Waldo Emerson
As Emerson suggests, if you really want insight into the well-nourished minds of great leaders, ask what they are reading.    You might expect many to rattle off the title of the latest best selling business book, full of tips on efficiency and team building.    These glossy tomes, sporting a suited and smiling CEO on the cover may seem like the perfect tonic for our seasoned, respected leaders, right?  In my experience, no. The really great leaders are much more likely to spend time reading the classics, the great thinkers, novels, histories or biographies.
Over the course of my career, my personal mentors have all been voracious readers.  Their ability to digest and process complex information, empathize with others and think deeply is obviously enhanced by their literary habits.  In addition, they are great storytellers and communicators.  My former boss and friend, Bart Peterson, is fond of biographies and histories and can speak eloquently about what he has learned and experienced through reading.  Another friend and mentor, Fred Glass, vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics at Indiana University, occasionally invokes the heroic leadership tale of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and the crew of his ship Endurance as an example of perseverance and leadership.  Well-read local CEO, Krista Skidmore, an IHC board member and President of Flashpoint Consulting, reads the United States Constitution each month as an important reminder of the need for active participation in our democracy. 
My personal journey to the Indiana Humanities Council was paved with books. As a young girl growing up in rural Indiana, books were my window to the world and offered experiences and perspectives that were well beyond my direct personal experience.  Reading in college and law school taught me critical reasoning skills and challenged my assumptions about almost everything I thought I knew.  As an adult, reading has offered insight, comfort, and inspiration.
So, during these lazy days of summer when you are starting to daydream about the gentle lake breeze in a hammock, jetting off to an exotic location or spending some quality free time with friends and family, consider bringing along a great read to extend your journey and feed your mind.  If you do, please share your reading experience with the Indiana Humanities Council and our regular readers as a guest blogger for our “What are you reading Wednesday” column to provide more “Food for Thought” for Hoosiers statewide.
“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”  Harry S. Truman
This What-are-you-reading-Wednesday post was written by Keira Amstutz, the Indiana Humanities Council’s president and CEO. It also appeared as  “Leadership Lessons Learned” column for Lacy Leadership Association.
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