Harry S Truman once said 'Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.' I’ll extend that by saying, at least the good leaders are readers! In my 30 year career in leadership, I have mentored and coached hundreds of leaders to help them become outstanding leaders. One of the critical success factors for developing into a strong leader is a voracious appetite to learn and improve.
So it should be no surprise what I personally feel to be a foundation of leadership development and personal growth that supports that appetite to learn: a commitment to regular reading. Now, I can hear the excuses in your head already: “I’m too busy to read books”, “I start books, but never seem to be able to finish them”, “I like TED Talks and Podcasts more than reading”, and so on. Granted, it is hard to find time in our busy lives to read. Reading, especially reading books, requires a certain commitment of quiet and concentration that can sometimes be difficult to achieve. But that, in and of itself, is just one of the values of committing to reading on a regular basis – the focus required amplifies the benefit of the experience. TED Talks are great, but in reality, they just scratch the surface of an issue or topic. Podcasts are also an effective method, and somewhat less intrusive, to explore a variety of topics, but they too often lack the sense of structure and focus that books provide. Admittedly, it can be pretty intimidating when I open a new book in my Kindle app, and the little message in the corner says “5 hours and 45 mins left in the book.” “Wow!” I think to myself, “that’s a pretty big commitment, this better be worth it!”
To help you commit to a regular practice of reading, I have a few practical suggestions:
1) Focus on your focus. Be intentional in your reading choices with an emphasis on your desired development areas. For example, start with the framework of Leadership Development tenets and think about focus areas. How can I improve my self-awareness? How can I build a reputation as a person of integrity? Having a focus for your reading helps you commit, and also recognize the resulting benefits.
2) Find accountability for your commitment. Don’t keep your desire to read more a secret. Share your intent with your mentor, your spouse or partner, or anyone that will check in on you and ask how you are doing meeting your goal. Sometimes partnering with someone to commit to reading more can be a great help (and provides some great conversation points).
3) Start with a reference. Typing “Leadership books” into the search bar of Amazon can be a daunting task, as the result is literally 1000’s of offerings. Where do I start? How do I know if it’s going to be useful to me? I suggest you use a variety of sources as a starting point. Heard a great TED Talk or Podcast? See if they have a book. Heard someone mention a great book? Ask them about it (and maybe if you can borrow it). You can find my list of 70+ books that I have read and recommend here, I’ve left the ‘bad’ ones I’ve read off the list.
4) Find your style. A key element of committing to reading is understanding how you will read – everyone has a different style. For me, I’m a parallel reader. A quick current inventory shows I have multiple books in progress: 4 leadership books, a novel, an autobiography, and a book about making better BBQ! This is my style – I’ve developed a comfort with starting something new before I finish another, and also have a rhythm of sorts I use to make sure I get back to each of them. I’ve also developed the ability to put away books that “aren’t doing it for me” without guilt or regret for the $12 I spent on the incomplete book.
5) Set a goal or target. Like many things, if you don’t have a goal your intentions will probably go unrealized, so set a specific target for your reading. For the past 20 years, I have set a target of reading at least 3 leadership books a year. Some years I have overachieved (hence a reading list representing 70+ books read), and some years I really had to scramble at the end of the year to hit my target but I’ve achieved my goal every year!
Find your style, set goals, focus on the benefits, and embrace reading! I’d love to hear your suggestions for a great read, and also would be interested to hear stories of impact from your commitment to reading.