As a student of my own job, I read a lot. It’s become a rewarding habit. That wasn’t always the case for me. So I understand if reading is not a significant part of your life.
In August, 2007, the Washington Post published the results of an Associated Press—Ipsos poll that found one in four Americans had not read one book in the previous year. The median number was four (half of poll respondents read more, half read fewer).
To me, these are astonishing and sad numbers.
You do not have to tell me how many books you have read in the past year, but, whatever the number is, as a leader you will need to read more, even if reading is not a love, or even a habit, with you now.
You will need to read more because leaders are after breakthrough results, and reading feeds the mind with the raw material needed to think better: more deeply, more expansively, more synthetically, more critically, more creatively, more actively, more curiously, and more understandingly.
What should you read?
Almost anything will do.
Read fiction to enliven your imagination.
Read what interests you to deepen your interest with the advice of experts.
Read what doesn’t interest you to figure out what in the world could possibly be interesting enough about the subject that someone would write an entire book (or an article, or a blog) about it.
Read what you’ve read before to rediscover why you loved it the first time.
Read what you’ve never read because that’s where you’ll find most of your new knowledge.
Read about people to learn more about the experiences of others.
Read history to learn what happened before you came into the world.
Read the cereal box and study the nutritional facts of your daily diet.
Sure, you could read books about business and leadership skills. I do. I find it a quick and easy way to benefit from the expertise of others.
Here are some reading tips I have developed along the way:
- Don’t be afraid to read hard stuff. It exercises the mind. In fact, seek it out.
- Don’t’ feel that you have to finish every book that you start. This is not high school and no book report is due. If you are not getting anything out of the book after giving it a fair chance, quit wasting your time.
- Don’t feel that you have to read every…single…word…one…word…at…a…time… Scan. Look at tables, charts, pictures, diagrams, chapter titles, section headings, or chapter summaries.
- Don’t feel that you have to read a book (or anything) in the order that it is presented to you. Use guideposts such as the foreword or introduction, table of contents, index, lists of tables or illustrations, references, or bibliography. Find what you’re after or what strikes you and start there. Feel free to jump around.
- Don’t limit yourself to familiar topics. Intentionally read outside your interest zone.
- Don’t feel that reading has to be a marathon effort requiring hours of undisturbed time. Even five minutes a day will get you farther than no reading at all. Make reading a part of your day, every day.
- Let what you are reading point the way to something else. Learn to follow your own curiosity. A book is but a portal to a world of knowledge.
- Put what you are reading to work immediately. Find something―anything—that you can incorporate into your own thinking and actions. The sooner the better. Better yet, share your learning and interests with someone else.
- Read multiple sources on a topic until it begins to sound repetitive. This is a pretty good indication that you have a grip on the core of the material. This is the first step toward becoming an expert, and anyone can become an expert.
Well, there’s probably more to say but I will conclude with this: As a leader, you need to read. Leaders do not achieve the breakthrough results with the status quo. Whatever you are doing now got you where you are; extra effort is needed to take you farther. And one area of extra effort is reading.
I promise you that your investment in reading will pay off many times over.
From time to time I will share with you what I am reading. I would be happy if you shared your reading with me.
Now, if you have actually read this entire letter, then you are off to a good start!
Thank you, and Happy Reading!