“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
These words by Harry Truman (33rd President of the United States) resonate with all effective leaders who know that the foundation of great leadership is a commitment to lifelong learning, upon which every lasting success is built.
Over the years, I’ve been asked by many students, young professionals, and experienced business people on what I think is the secret to achieving goals and leading a fulfilled life.
I reply: “Read as much as you can, and always be curious.”
The most successful people and the most effective leaders are constantly learning and yet, they never consider themselves experts; they prefer to be seen as students of life. And they read – a lot.
Bill Gates is a voracious reader, making his way through at least 50 books every year. Elon Musk, when asked about how he achieved his phenomenal success, said: “I read books.”
Mark Zuckerberg made a commitment to himself to read one book every two weeks throughout 2015, and continues to read regularly.
I’m sure we can agree that these leaders (to name just a few well-known avid readers) have extremely busy lives – which means that, if they can find the time to read, the rest of us have little excuse not to follow suit.
Having said that, while I try to read as much as I can (particularly biographies of great leaders), I’m sometimes guilty of using ‘not enough time’ to excuse the days on which I don’t read at least a few chapters.
However, I do make an effort to catch myself and make sure I maintain a commitment to read about the practices, habits, successes, and failures that some of the greatest minds have enjoyed and endured. It helps when I remind myself that reading is the greatest means we have of enriching ourselves.
In conversations where I’ve discussed reading habits with others, some people have offered excuses as to why they don’t read, or don’t read as much as they’d like to.
Many of the excuses are well-argued, and I’d like to share three of them here and offer my thoughts for those who might have the same concerns when it comes to picking up a book.
“Reading makes me feel unproductive, like I’m being lazy.”
This is a common excuse I’ve heard, which stems from the outdated belief that if you’re not moving around with a stressed look on your face, you’re not being productive.
If you pick up a copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, if you digest the pages of a biography of Thomas Jefferson, if you start your day by reading scripture or some uplifting material, if you read an article about the importance of serving others – you are being anything but unproductive.
What you’re doing is filling your mind with enriching thoughts, ideas, and reflections of others which will benefit you in a number of ways.
A few of these include: improved critical thinking, increased compassion towards others through self-reflection, creative ideas that come to you from reading a poignant sentence or two, and a renewed strength to tackle your own challenges as you read the struggles of those who overcame their greatest obstacles.
“I’d love to read more, but I just don’t have the time.”
Whenever we say we don’t have the time to read (or exercise, or diet), what we usually mean is that it’s not a priority.
We never have time for things we’d rather put off until later, yet, we are able to make ourselves available whenever something unexpected comes up that we know we’ll enjoy.
If you’re genuinely pressed for time, 20 minutes of reading in the morning and before going to sleep every day can allow you to get through quite a number of pages in a week.
Find extra time by cutting out unnecessary practices such as frequently checking your emails or scrolling through social media.
It’s amazing how much of our time is eaten up by habits that are almost entirely unproductive.
“I’m not much of a reader/I don’t know where to begin.”
The people who expressed this sentiment to me lamented that reading is a chore.
While I don’t want to talk down education systems, I believe this perception of reading as a chore stems from our schooling days.
Reading is a task to get done – something to tick off the to-do list.
We need to develop the mindset that reading is a pleasurable pastime that fills us with ideas, energises our imaginations, takes us to imaginary worlds, or allows us a glimpse of history as seen through the eyes of the great men and women who helped to change and shape our world.
Fuel your interest
We are all interested in something, and every subject is explored through a wealth of materials.
If biographies of historic leaders aren’t your thing, perhaps reading about the music industry or downloading an e-book on how to become more confident is something you are interested in.
Reading is fuelled by what interests us and, once we read about our interests, they lead us off in different directions as we discover related – and even new – subjects that introduce us to new ideas and worlds that we previously have never encountered.
If you’re not much of a reader (but would like to get into the habit), start by reading about what interests you… you might be surprised where the journey takes you.
Prefer an e-mag reading experience? No problem! This article is also available in our 8th September 2018 digital issue, which you can access here.