Reading: A Critical Habit for Leaders (or Anyone)

Call me a snob. Call me a nerd or a geek. Reading has long been a passion of mine. At any given time, my nightstand is cluttered with two or three half-finished books. Shelves can be found in nearly every room in the house, a mixture of novels and professional works stacked neatly. Call me an intellect. Trust me, I’ve been called far worse!

In several national columns lately, the topic of reading as a key leadership activity has been discussed. From the New York Times to the Harvard Business Review, Forbes to Inc., one never finds leadership experts disparaging the habit of reading. Quite the opposite. This activity is touted as a source of creativity, open-mindeness, continuous development, and meditative reflection. If this is true, why then do so few leaders follow this practice? Why is reading viewed as such a second-class citizen in the world of business and for development purposes?

Within a Fortune 500 company, I formerly worked on a team that was required to read a book each quarter and subsequently discuss its merits at a half-day team meeting. Each quarter, the presentation of the next required reading was met with groans, grumbles, and abject despair. Yet, each book (the good and the not-so-good) yielded fantastic discussion and faily deep insights at the next quarterly meeting.

Let’s face it, most of us have lost the ability and desire to read. In a society so driven by instant access to mass entertainment, the habitual practice of reading has slipped from its place of prominence. It’s become a symbol of over-intellectualized brainiacs, a practice for those foolish enough (and with adequate free time) to merely philosophize and theorize. After all, those who do have little time or effort for such frivolities. Right?

Recently, I’ve been spending a fair amount of my professional life conducting psychological assessments on future leaders. As such, I find myself increasing amazed (and then worried) by the paucity of “readers” who envision themselves rising through their organizational ranks.

Perhaps because I’m a reader myself, I am admittedly biased toward those with similar interests and dedications. But just maybe, the benefits I have seen and experienced from firsthand exposure to the written works of so many great writers, not to mention business experts and leaders who have so graciously shared their stories and words of wisdom, have made me understand the importance of reading for leadership.

Does one have to read to be a creative, innovative, reflective, and thoughtful leader? Of course not. But reading has been found to enhance these qualities in individuals, and it profoundly points to an individual’s continuous improvement mindset. That in and of itself, should be reason enough for leaders to make a concerted effort to read.

So, if you’re a leader, or aspire to leadership positions (or really anything more than you currently are), carve out some time and pick up a book. Make it a goal to read at least a book a month. You won’t regret it…and those you lead will thank you for it.

One thought on “Reading: A Critical Habit for Leaders (or Anyone)

  1. A great post indeed Trevor,

    I must admit I am a leader and I read, read and read. I also encourage my staff to do the same, but not on professional insight, but self-development, they in-turn (much like your stated examples) come back with deep filled insights and a positive mental attitude which affects their workload many times over.

    I must admit, was never a reader before, due to my dyslexia but I managed to re-wire my brain and adapted my mind to understand reading, and slowly it became form a painful experience to a pleasurable one. I have now read hundreds of books and used my disadvantage to my biggest advantage, I therefore manage to retain information more (as I think visually) and can recite various topics from a number of books on the spot.

    I now use my free time to help other leaders by encouraging them to read more to become better all round.

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