Harry S. Truman said, “not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” I love reading both because it’s enjoyable and it plays a critical role in helping me become a better leader. I normally consume at least two books per month, mostly as audiobooks through Audible.com. I’m usually in the middle of three or four books so I can choose what I feel like at any given time, such as a religious book for Sunday, a fiction book for when I want to relax, and one or two non-fiction books for when I’m motivated to learn.
Here are five reasons all leaders are readers:
1. Reading elevates us above our current situation
It’s easy to get bogged down in our day-to-day lives, and reading elevates us above the daily grind. It can inspire us with stories of great accomplishments. It can give us new ideas. It allows us to step back and view the forest while day-to-day we only see a few trees.
I enjoy biographies for this reason. I’ve recently read Winners Dream, the autobiography of SAP CEO Bill McDermott, and The Innovators, the story of the computer and Internet pioneers.
2. Reading multiplies our experiences
We don’t generally experience life very quickly. Building anything of value as a leader takes time, and the process is typically challenging and messy.
Think of building a family. It takes almost 20 years to raise a child, and we only get a limited number of children to practice on. Older couples will say it takes a lifetime to build a successful marriage, and again, opportunities to practice are limited. However, by reading we can learn from the experiences of virtually unlimited numbers of successful parents and married couples.
The same applies to leading in business. We only have time to lead in a handful of business during our career, but by reading we can learn from the experiences of an unlimited number of leaders.
I wrote a blog post about the power of learning from others experiences through stories.
3. Reading allows us to spend time with smart people
You may not be able to have lunch with Michael Hyatt, Andy Andrews, Dave Ramsey, Jim Collins, or Peter Drucker (especially because he’s passed on). But you can spend as much time with them as you want by reading material written by them.
I used to get frustrated with reading. I would read a lot of books, but I didn't feel like I was retaining much of what I read. Michael Hyatt changed my outlook. In one of his podcasts he mentioned that he doesn’t read with the intent of retaining much. He reads to spend time with smart people.
4. Reading can quickly build our expertise
Without reading, our expertise will be limited to our direct experiences. We don’t experience life quickly, so our direct experience are limited.
I wrote a blog post about ways learn a new industry. The post was inspired by the wealth of knowledge I gained from reading the book, The Business of Venture Capital.
I’ve been working in venture capital for over three years now, but my experience is limited to my circumstances, such as the stage of our VC fund, the companies we work with, and my role. However, by spending a few hours reading The Business of Venture Capital, I was able to expand my expertise to all areas of venture capital.
Of course, book learning is not as good as hands-on experience, but it may open the door to opportunities for hands-on experience and make us more effective when we get the opportunity.
5. Reading gives us an escape
When thinking about reading for leaders, we normally think about non-fiction, such as leadership principles, self-improvement, biographies, etc. While I primarily read non-fiction, I believe it’s important to also read fiction.
Fiction reading provides an escape. It helps you mentally disengage from your circumstances, which facilitates rest and recovery. When you come back to real life, you can face your challenges with new ideas and renewed energy and focus.
If you want to be a leader, you must be a reader!
Question: In what ways has reading helped you become a better leader?