Five reasons why leaders are readers

Much has been written about leadership. A lot of it by pretty amazing people to whom we all probably ought to listen. Here are a few examples:

‘Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right thing’.

Love that one. Peter F. Druker.

So leadership is about choice. Selecting from the infinite possible futures the one that helps to achieve whatever is closest to your heart. Whenever we make a decision, large or small, we like to have as much relevant information as possible to aid us. Leaders build up their understanding of the world to help them make the best decisions they can.

‘The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers’.

That one is Ralph Nader.

So leadership is about sharing. Sharing the future, sharing information, sharing responsibility and sharing the understanding that makes a leader in the first place. It’s about inspiring people to learn, know and do things they otherwise wouldn’t.

‘Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other’.

Getting closer with this one from John F. Kennedy

So learning is key to leadership. It’s about fathoming out the safest, fastest, surest, (insert your adjective of choice here) way into the future. Now, we can’t know the future. Not yet – see what I did there? The next best thing is to arm yourself with as much information about the present and the past as possible and infer potential outcomes of the various ways forward. Then it’s basically like chemotaxis. Move towards the good stuff.

So to our final* and most pertinent quote for today from Harry S. Truman.

‘Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.’

This one is close to my heart as an author. Here are five reasons why I think this makes sense.

  1. When we read we multiply our own experiences by those of others – Most things in life that are worthwhile take time. We experience life one moment at a time and are limited to experiencing and learning what we can as we go. Reading allows us access to the experiences of others and at a much faster rate than a measly one moment at a time.
  2. When we read we can choose who we spend time with – You are the sum of the six people you spend most time with. Apparently. Not verified or anything but is seems to make some sense. Spend time with smart people and you’ll be smarter and so on. You might never meet your heroes or those that know about something you are interested in, but you can read and re-read their words as often as you like. It’s a bit like time travel albeit into the past.
  3. When we read we receive considered wisdom – Unless you are reading the comments on (any site you like) or much written on social media, a good book will represent the author’s considered thoughts and analysis about the subject, not just experiential data. That saves you the job of interpreting the data yourself and trying to put it in an order that makes sense. Authors often do that for you too.
  4. When we read we transcend the day to day – Getting the kids to school, looking after the pets, fitting in some exercise, remembering to eat well, oh and actually doing the work people pay you for is enough to cause the days to blend into one. Reading allows us to step back and look at things from a broader perspective. Things often look better from there.
  5. When we read we escape – Leaders often like to read things about leadership. Naturally. However, many enlightened people understand that reading widely and deeply outside of your (current) area of interest is very productive and can give you the next idea you never knew you had in you. It also allows you to journey beyond to other realms – doesn’t have to be time travel. Just a literary device.

*I’ll leave you with a final and fifth quote from possibly the most influential of thinkers in recent decades.

‘Try not. Do or do not. There is no try’.

Master Yoda.