#244: Why “Leaders Must Be Readers” is Wrong

Harry S. Truman said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Was Harry right, or is his statement yet another political platitude meant to tickle the ears? Well, I think he was at least partially right.

Leaders Readers

Not All Readers Are Leaders

Reading by itself doesn’t make you a leader. If it did, college students would all be leaders, and recruiters would be looking for leaders among subscribers of romance novels. No, reading by itself won’t make you into a leader.

All Leaders Are Readers

Is Harry saying there hasn’t been a leader from the dawn of time that wasn’t a reader? Probably not. The earliest known texts didn’t come on the scene until 2600 BC. So, before that, there was nothing for anyone to read!

Let’s give Harry the benefit of the doubt and assume he is referring to modern times. There are numerous native tribes around the world today who still don’t have a written language, yet they have leaders.

Apparently, there is no causal relationship between leading and reading. All leaders are not readers.

But, can reading make you a better leader? Now, I suspect, this is what Harry was really trying to get at!

Are Readers Better Leaders?

I suspect the answer to the question, “Are readers better leaders?” is, “yes.” But, not just because they read. No, the answer to why readers are better leaders lies in what they read!

Better leaders are purpose driven readers. Their reading selections are intentional. They read with the intent to improve their ability to lead.

Author Michael Hyatt wrote Five Ways Reading Makes You a Better Leader (you can read his article here). In this article Hyatt says:

  • Reading makes us better thinkers. Studies show reading helps increase our analytical skills.
  • Reading improves our people skills. Studies show understanding others through their stories helps increase our EQ (Emotional Quotient).
  • Reading helps us master communication. It helps us improve our language skills.
  • Reading helps us relax. It helps us reduce stress.
  • Reading keeps us young. It helps us stay sharp mentally.

John Coleman, writing for the Harvard Business Review (For Those Who Want to Lead, Read), noted there is a sharp decline in reading among leaders despite the many benefits for leaders who read. Coleman notes:

  • Reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight.
  • Reading increases verbal intelligence, making a leader a more adept and articulate communicator.
  • Reading can improve empathy and understanding of social cues, allowing a leader to better work with and understand others.
  • Reading can make you more personally effective by keeping you relaxed and improving health.

Reading has a lot of tangible benefits for a leader, but to leverage the time we spend reading we need to be purposeful about our reading choices.

Becoming a Purpose Driven Reader

Time is limited. To maximize the benefit of time spent reading we need to be intentional and purposeful about our reading choices.

Here are six tips to make your reading time both intentional and purposeful:

  1. Establish the reading habit. Set aside a specific block of time to read, and put it on our calendar like any other appointment or commitment. For some folks this is early morning, for others, it’s their lunch hour. Still others find the evenings a perfect time to dive into a book.
  2. Read a variety of genres. If you are a business person step out and try reading a biography, a history book, or go crazy and read some Shakespeare! Be intentional about your selections.
  3. Apply what you read. Whether the book is specific to your industry or not, look for ways to apply what you are reading to your work. Get out your sticky notes and your highlighter. Make notes in the margins if you want, but take action on key points you discover as you read.
  4. Read with others. This might be something as formal as a book club or just a friend who agrees to read along with you. The benefit comes from the accountability and the discussions you’ll have about what you’re reading.
  5. Share the fun. If leaders grow by being intentional, purposeful readers then share the fun with co-workers. It’s a great way to build the depth of your organization.
  6. Relax and enjoy. Have some fun. Relax. Yes, be intentional and purposeful, but don’t forget to have some fun along the way!

Join the Conversation

As always, questions and comments are welcome. Are you a reading leader? What have you read recently that inspired you in some way?

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Category: Personal Development | Self-Discipline

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