Former President of the United States, Harry S. Truman, once said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Leadership and reading go hand in hand. If leaders are not reading, they are not growing. Leaders must always be pushing themselves to improve. A stagnant leader is an ineffective leader. Leaders who find time to read, develop new ideas and concepts, and challenge themselves to be better are leaders who will have the largest impact on their team.
Why is reading so important to leadership? The internet is filled with reasons why leaders should be readers, but I want to answer the question on a more personal note. Here are my top 5 reasons I believe it is so important for leaders to be readers:
- New Knowledge
I believe in lifelong learning. If you have read any of my previous blog posts, you may have noticed that I hint at never thinking you are the smartest person in the room. Reading is a way to keep learning. Not everything you read may be something you can implement, or even something that relates to you, but there is always something to learn when we read. New knowledge means personal growth. There are so many things we can learn from people who may be experts in the field of leadership.
However, reading doesn’t necessarily mean you read self-help or leadership books all the time. I believe many fictional books hold valuable lessons in leadership and self growth as well. For example, The Chronicles of Narnia is an amazing set of stories with key elements of powerful leadership characteristics. Everything from King Peter and his relationship with his brother Edmund in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, to Prince Caspian and Queen Lucy’s leadership qualities in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. There is always something we can learn if we are willing to open our mind to new knowledge and ideas.
- Character Check
There are many instances that I find myself checking my own character against other people in leadership. Reading gives me the opportunity to self reflect on my own character traits and see what areas I could improve. When I read H3 Leadership by Brad Lomenick, I found myself convicted in many ways with the way I spend my time. Right now, I am reading through Start With Why by Simon Sinek. I find myself challenged with ways that I can make my WHY more prevalent in my life and make sure my character matches my WHY.
Leadership is not about titles or positions, but rather how one life influences another. Without a solid character, the influence we have will be meaningless and potentially harmful. If our character is lacking in any area, people will see through our BS, and our effectiveness as leaders will be insignificant. I believe every leader should always keep their character in check, and one of the ways to do this best is through reading. If you are lacking a good understanding of quality characteristics for leadership, reading will help you create and form a foundation to build on.
- Being Challenge
As leaders, we should always be challenging our way of thinking, our attitude toward leadership, our character, and our overall understanding of what leadership really means. When we read, we are challenging the status quo of our mindset. If we never challenged ourselves or our thinking, we would never grow and become better. Again, we always have something to learn, and the moment you think you’re the smartest person in the room, it’s time for you to quit. You have lost the meaning and value of leadership.
Reading can make us feel uncomfortable, which is good. When we are challenged to think through hard things, we get the opportunity to refine our thinking and our character. We should never settle for okay. Challenging ourselves keeps us alert, awake, and aware. Most refuse to challenge themselves because it means they might be wrong, or they might put them in a vulnerable position, or they might have to put in more work. You see, that’s the difference between people who lead and leaders, the latter never back down from a challenge and are always looking for ways to improve.
- Encourage Change
Reading opens the door to new ideas to try, new concepts to discuss with your team, new ways to make your organization, your company, and your team better and stronger. When you read, look for the small nuggets of knowledge to take back to your team and ask questions. Get their take on the idea. Listen to what your team has to say. Reading helps us see things in a different light. If we never change the light bulbs in the house, we’ll eventually be walking around in a dark house. Reading encourages change; change in ideas, change in mindset, change in character.
When we develop an acceptance to change, we have the opportunity to become better than we were. However, we need to be careful with who we listen to and what we read. If you find yourself reading books that put more of an emphasis on titles and positions, and less on building relationships and service, you may want to throw that book away. One of the quickest ways to destroy your effectiveness and influence as a leader, is focusing more on your position than on the people you lead. Change is good if it challenges you to become better, but it can also be destructive if you find yourself on a pedestal. Read books that challenge you to become selfless and place others before yourself.
Reading has a way of helping us find or redefine our purpose. It gives us the opportunity to remember why we started and helps us redefine the WHY that we may have forgotten. Reading creates an atmosphere of reflection. One of my favorite things to do is go back through a book I have read and read only the parts that I highlighted. It shows me what my thought process and my attitude was like the last time I read that book. There are times when I have those “Oh yeah” moments, or “Man that’s good,” and then I have times where I go, “why would I have highlighted that?” It forces me to reflect on where I was, where I am, and where I want to go.
Reflection is key to bettering ourselves. One of my favorite quotes about reflection comes from Confucius, “Learning without reflection is a waste. Reflection without learning is dangerous.” If we ever want to reach our full potential, we must always be in a state of reflection. If we want to become effective leaders, we must learn from our reflections. Ladies and gentlemen, we do not have all the answers, we always have something to learn, and to reach our true potential, we must humble ourselves, reflect, and learn.
I could keep going, but that would make for a long blog post. My hope from this blog is that you have found a reason to start reading or read more. Open your mind to new ideas and possibilities, keep your character in check, challenge yourself to grow, change the parts of you that hold you back, and reflect on ways you can get better. Leaders need to be readers.
Leave a comment and let me know what you are reading or what books you would recommend.