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Feeding the Soul of a Leader

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

Here’s an idea to strengthen your reading habits. Reading time: 4:24

      In his heyday as the Heavyweight Champion of the World, Gene Tunney unleashed a skill unheard of in the boxing world – a skill that made his devastating punch even more powerful.

Gebe Tunney, Heavyweight Boxing Champion from 1926-1928 reading in 1927.

Gene Tunney, Heavyweight Boxing Champion from 1926-1928.  Reading in 1927 one month before his bout with Jack Dempsey.

       It’s a skill that you too can develop today to sharpen your leadership punch without getting your brains bashed in.

      That skill? Reading the Classics in general and teaching Shakespeare in particular.

     In fact, while preparing to defend his heavyweight boxing championship against Jack Dempsey, Tunney even guest lectured on Shakespeare at Yale University.

      “Speaking without notes for a half hour, Tunney held his overflow audience (500) spellbound, “ writes Jack Cavanaugh in his book  Boxing’s Brainiest Champ and His Upset of the Great Jack Dempsey.

      Tunney cited his voracious reading for honing his uncanny ability to study and concentrate on the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents as if he were vying in a Shakespearean tragedy of ambition and arrogance, passion and purpose.

     His reading of the classics and his study of human foibles through William Shakespeare’s pen helped Tunney develop his strategic thinking skills in general and ultimately played a role in his targeted strategic plan of attack he waged against his opponents in era when all boxers merely thoughtlessly slugged it out.

     Instead, Tunney boxed with more precision in his hands and more rhythm on his feet. No wonder Gene Tunney parlayed his reading reputation into becoming The Thinking Boxer.           tunney bookAs The Thinking Boxer, Gene Tunney out-smarted — and out-read –his opponent’s tactics , charting an 81-1 record, knocking out 44 opponents (while never being knocked out), and over-coming 4-to-1 odds in defeating the reigning champion Jack Dempsey who had knocked out 50 previous opponents: 25 in the first round.

      Tunney’s penchant for Shakespeare and Company is only one example of leaders who thrived on their habitual reading habit.

     Teddy Roosevelt read 20,000 books by the time he became the President of the United States at age 43, estimates biographer Edmund Morris.

       In fact during a five-day reading explosion during his Harvard years, Roosevelt read The First Book of the Epistles of Horace, the Iliad Book VI of Homer  and The Apology of Socrates. A few years later Roosevelt read Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina by night and chased thieves across the Bad Lands by day.

     Alexander the Great kept of a copy of Homer’s Iliad under his pillow when he was 14. As a world conqueror less than 20 years later he carried the same famous book in a special container to commemorate the deeds of Trojan War heroes.

   General Sam Houston also regularly read the Greek and Roman classics when he wasn’t defeating Mexico’s General Santa Ana and eventually winning statehood for Texas.

     Simon Lake read Jules Verne’s novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea as a 12-year-old. He vowed to one day travel under the seas like Captain Nemo. Thirty years later he achieve his goal. He built the first submarine to operate in the open seas.

    shakespeareConsider the boy who read fictional account of a North Pole expedition in Jules Verne’s The Adventures of Captain Hatteras and then turned fiction into fact when Admiral Richard E. Byrd became the first to conquer the North Pole.

    Consider the teenager who stayed up late one night reading a book he had just purchased on a famed French magician. Eric Weiss was so impressed with the magic on those pages that he chose a career — and a name — after the hero in the book: Robert Houdin.

     Thomas Edison also pulled an all-nighter the first night after he had purchased all of Michael Faraday’s books on electricity. “Tom’s brain was on fire with what he read,” Edison’s roommate at the time recalled. That fire in his brain eventually produced 1200 patents including the light bulb.

     Indeed, reading something more enriching than –status reports, e-mails, blogs, tweets, and texts -is a leader’s Go-To punch in the Ring of Life.

     Maybe that’s why Edward Gibbon, author of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, said he would not exchange his love of reading for all the treasures of India.

    And Cicero — the Roman statesman, orator and author–described a home without books as a body without a soul.

     Gene Tunney had the body and the soul.

     And the spine of a leader –bound into his books.

Today’s ImproveMINT

Read the classics to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.

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