Biographies, Memoirs and What They Have to Do With Leadership


I’ve read several leadership books this semester. Many of them highlight how important it is for leaders to read the biographies of other great leaders. Apparently, reading their stories can teach us a lot about ourselves, maybe we can learn from their mistakes, or see how God worked in their lives. I have not thought about reading biographies for this purpose before. I have read a few biographies, though not many, the most memorable being, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” I found it interesting but don’t think I will be adopting his leadership style. I also read “The Diary of Anne Frank” as a child, but can’t remember many details from it. I digress…

The authors of these leadership books continuously highlighted the importance of studying the lives of people like D.L. Moody, Bill Bright, Billy Graham, and the Wesley brothers. Of course, I have read various materials on several of these gentlemen, but not a biography.

On the other hand, I have read, “From the Hood to the Hill,” which chronicles the life of Rear Admiral (Retired), U.S. Navy, Barry C. Black. Rear Admiral Black was the first and only African American to ever serve as U.S. Chief of Chaplains and is the first person of color in our nation’s history to serve as Chaplain of the U.S. Senate. His story is definitely worth reading! I also recommend the book “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story” (or you can rent the DVD by the same title). A devout Seventh Day Adventist, Dr. Carson went from the inner city of Detroit to become one of the world’s greatest neurosurgeons.

Considering these recommendations and pondering my scarce biography reading diet made me wonder, “How important it is really? Should we read biographies? In today’s publishing world, does reading memoirs serve the same purpose as reading biographies?

I have read a few memoirs, but again not many. Here’s what I have read:

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Women Who Raised Me by Actress, Victoria Rowell (chronicling her life growing up in the foster care system)

Angry Conversation With God by Actress, Susan Isaacs

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculée Ilibagiza

I plan to read the following memoirs over the next couple months:

The Girl in the Orange Dress by Margot Starbuck

Reluctant Pilgrim by Enuma Okoro

A Girl named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

The Good Daughter by Jasmin Darznik

So, what’s your take on reading biographies? Have you read any good ones? If so, please share. What about memoirs…do they serve the same purpose? What memoirs do you recommend reading and why?

© Natasha S. Robinson 2011

Published by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

Servant of Jesus. Truth-teller. Leader. Mentor. Author of Books.

7 thoughts on “Biographies, Memoirs and What They Have to Do With Leadership

  1. I have been following the memoir trend for a few years, and I strongly believe in the unique ability of the memoir to teach readers story in a way that we can incorporate into our own lives. Also, the secular memoir is often critiqued for being self-centered, but the memoir written by a believer does not begin and end with “me,” rather it tells a personal story that transcends the self into a greater story of Christ. I love the memoir as an opportunity to trace the grace in all our lives, and see where God is working.

    Here are a few of my favorites:

    Lit and The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr
    A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
    Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and me by Ian Cron
    The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
    Currently, I’m enjoying Season to Taste, a memoir about a girl who was ready to go to culinary school when an accident caused her to lose her sense of smell, and therefore taste.

    1. I deifnitely got the “self-centered” feeling while reading “Eat, Pray, Love” but not so much with Victoria Rowell’s memoir. There were some slow parts but her experiences were pretty interesting. Thanks for sharing all of the recommendations. I will definitely be looking into them. Blessings, Natasha

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