Five children’s books with the best leadership lessons for adults

Oh the places you’ll go!
Oh the places you’ll go!
Image: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
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Managers may rely on a multitude of tropes but seldom do we hear them encouraging their teams to “ride the wise eagle.”

Yet their workers could chase away evil worms and cultivate courage by reading and sharing Neil Gaiman‘s Instructions (2010)a 40-page children’s book that may resonate with leaders or anyone steering their business into unknown territories.

Every year, authors produce a sea of business and leadership books with titles such as Rita Gunther McGrath’s The End of Competitive Advantage and Lois Frankel’s Nice Girls Still Don’t Get the Corner Office. They share strategy and corporate stories and may be useful in leadership development or managing change.

Yet few are as compelling, as concise or magical, as a simple journey into a child’s picture book.

“People can chose easily to get stuck in the known and lose sight of the potential,” said Pam Rogers, who spent 15 years in finance, auditing and leadership roles at KPMG and the American Red Cross before becoming a children’s librarian and consultant for the  New Orleans Public Library.  ”I make those connections all the time about books I wish I had known about when I had a difficult meeting on budgets and strategic planning.”

Gaiman’s book, according to Kirkus Review, “could be instructions for a child, a writer, a newly minted adult or an elder.” Gaiman’s messages are clear and beautiful: ”Trust those who you have helped to help you in their turn. Trust dreams. Trust your heart and trust your story.”

Here are five such excellent stories, chosen by Rogers for different leadership moments:

  • The Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy, illustrated and retold by Jon J. Muth. This book, published in 2002, “will resonate with leaders in all industries,” Rogers said. The New York Times reviewer called it “quietly life-changing.” A young lad is seeking answers to clear, pointed questions: ”What is the right thing to do?“ and “Who is the most important one?”
  • First the Egg. This simple book from 2007 by Laura Vaccaro Seeger could work during a product launch or group presentation, Rogers said.  The story forces people to “think about what came first, the vision that leads to a new product, the lab mistake that leads to a new invention….” It also may show lessons of transformation or the ”playground of perception.”
  • The Lost Thing. This magical tale published in 2000 by Australian author and illustrator Shaun Tan, encourages leaders to “be generous; through generosity know that your team can come together,” Rogers suggests. It tells of a boy who befriends a strange, humongous creature and kindly agrees to take him in. Eventually, they must wander through a bureaucratic terrain to find the Thing’s real home. The book grew into a short film that won an Academy Award in 2011.
  • The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. In this 2012 book by Wiliam Joyce, a man loves, nurtures, and repairs books. He follows a woman into an enchanted library where books are alive and gets to know them. As he ages, he decides to write his own story, which flies onto the shoulder of a young girl when it’s done. The lessons that fly out of this encourage managers to “foster good talent” and learn to leave a legacy of wisdom and sharing. (Interestingly, the animated short film version came first, and won an Oscar in 2012.)
  • The Tale I Told Sasha. This story by Nancy Willard (1999) will work well for those setting out on a new business venture—”one with a great deal of unchartered waters,” said Rogers. It follows a girl chasing her yellow ball through magical lands, over the Bridge of Butterflies and meets the King of Keys who the author writes “whistled twice ‘Believe! Believe!'” It reminds leaders to stay the course and believe in their vision. All good leaders need reminders to slow down, be generous, and remember their role within the whole company.