How Leaders Can Reap the Benefits of Serious Reading
I have always been an avid reader, but over the last few years, I've become much more intentional and ambitious in my reading. In 2015, I set my first challenging reading goal: to read fifty-two books in one year. By the time the year was done, the total was seventy-six.
I still read at least one book every week. Many people ask me, “Why read so many books?” My answer: It's a key part of my leadership strategy. As Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
My ambition is to be a better person five years from now. As a leader, I believe it is my responsibility to follow a path of personal growth. Reading is integral to that process.
Here are five reasons why I read at least one book every week:
1. To challenge my own thinking
One of my favorite aphorisms is, “Don't believe everything you think.” We have a tendency to read books that reinforce ideas we already agree with. We're looking for someone to confirm what we believe to be true. There is value in that. However, there is also a danger of becoming narrow-minded.
Richard Feynman, an American theoretical physicist known for his work in the area of quantum mechanics, once said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” That's why I read books that challenge my thinking.
2. To learn about new ideas
While this may seem similar to the first point, it is different in a significant way. In this case, I'm not reading to reinforce or challenge ideas I already am familiar with, I'm looking for ideas I have not encountered before that sit outside my normal lanes of thinking.
I consciously select books in genres that I typically have no interest in, and very little knowledge about. It is through reading these books that I often discover the most exciting new ideas.
3. To spark new ideas of my own
Reading lots of books in different areas of thought fills my brain with concepts, ideas, and language that stimulate my own creativity. I believe that there are indeed “new things under the sun.” We discover them by taking in as many ideas as possible and letting our mind do the work of finding the connections that lead to original thinking. The easiest (and best) way I know to accomplish this is by reading lots of books.
4. To learn new practical tools for living and leading
Often, the best way to learn a new skill or procedure is to read books about that subject. For example, I just finished reading Profit First by Mike Michalowicz, a book about how entrepreneurs can make their businesses permanently profitable. This was not only a new set of ideas for me, it was a way to learn a new practical skill set to improve my business finances. After reading this book, I immediately booked a meeting with my CPA, and we made big changes in our company financial procedures.
5. To think along with the author
This is perhaps the most amazing benefit of reading, and I'm surprised that more people don't notice it. When we read books, we're literally thinking the authors' thoughts along with them! The best minds in history are available to us, to help us do our thinking.
When reading their work, you can think the thoughts of Aristotle, Hemingway, John Locke, Benjamin Franklin, and countless other geniuses in their field. I can read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and think the same thoughts as the Emperor of Rome, across thousands of years. It's a miracle, and I never cease to be amazed by it.
These are the five reasons why I've read so many books (and remain committed to doing so). Reading makes me a better person, a better husband, a better father, and a better citizen. It helps me grow and develop, and to be a better leader for my team and my tribe. To me, those seem like good reasons to read great books.
My questions for you: Do you have an intentional reading plan? What are some of the reasons you read?
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