As many of us get used to the “new normal” of working from home, we are recognizing a unique opportunity to take this time to make ourselves better, and to come out of this crisis as the leaders — and human beings — we want to be.
One thing on many of our “quarantine-to-do” lists?
How often have you told yourself, “If only I had more time, I would read more.” Well, that time has arrived for many of us. After all, how much Netflix can one person watch!?
Investment guru Warren Buffett has famously said that he spends five to six hours a day reading. Now, you don’t have to read that much, but spending quality time reading every day should be a goal for every leader.
The truth is the world is more literate today than ever before, yet studies have shown that we are reading less and less. By reading, I’m not referring to the unending stream of emails, texts and social media posts we binge on every day. Rather, I’m referring to that deep, thoughtful reading you experience with books, both fiction and nonfiction, or deeper reporting in publications like The Atlantic, The Economist or Harvard Business Review. It’s that reading that demands time for reflection, challenges our assumptions and opens our eyes to new perspectives and ways of being, both personally and professionally.
As an executive coach, that kind of reading is core to what we do. We curate lists of books and other readings for clients, which provide the backbone for our coaching sessions. There is so much published on leadership that it can be overwhelming. We provide a focused curriculum that includes reading for every client, with the expectation that they’ve read before each session. We do this because we know how important reading is in developing truly exceptional leaders.
So the question to ask yourself is this: What kind of leader do you want to be coming out of this crisis? Reading can help you answer that question. Here are five reasons why.
1. Reading for business leaders should be about more than business. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that business leaders should only read about business. Topics unrelated to business and leadership are immensely valuable in that they can stretch your ability to empathize and see the big picture. Fiction. Nonfiction. Humor. If it causes you to think in new and innovative ways, keep reading. Two examples are “Team of Rivals” and “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Neither are traditional business leadership books, but both are extraordinarily useful and applicable to business leadership.
2. Reading should be both timeless and timely. The leadership lessons to be learned from the most recent HBR article are no more or less valuable than the wisdom shared by Charles Dickens in “A Tale of Two Cities” 160 years ago. The point is that reading should be broad, not only in topic, but also in respect to history. The world view and challenges of post-Industrial Revolution Europe can be just as enlightening as today’s exploration of the post-COVID impact on supply chains and employee engagement. Let your reading be both timeless and timely.
3. Reading allows you to be introspective. One of the most wonderful things about reading is that it forces you to take the time to be introspective. You simply can’t read a 700-page book in 15 minutes. Every leader needs that dedication of time to process new ideas. It takes time to let go of preconceived assumptions, both of yourself and how you lead, but also of the world in which we operate. It takes time to embrace what can be. That experience is sometimes called a “disorienting dilemma” because radically new ways of thinking can be disorienting. That is a gift that reading gives us.
4. Reading opens your eyes to what can be. If you are feeling stuck, in a rut, or simply don’t know what path to follow for you or your business, nothing can shake you out of that stagnation like a good book. A truly immersive read divorces you from your reality. It opens up possibilities that you could never conjure up in the confines of your own mind. It provides new and different go-forward perspectives. Ultimately, reading is all about transformation, in both thoughts and possibilities.
5. Reading makes you more empathetic. What does a good book do? It makes you feel what someone else is feeling. It allows you to experience viewpoints very different from your own. Reading is all about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Not only does that make for a good story, but it makes for a good leader. Empathy comes from a shared understanding, from having a glimpse into what those around you are going through and feeling. Books and other substantive reading can help leaders develop that empathetic lens.
To get you started on a reading list that can help you be a better leader, here is a list of diverse readings I recommend:
- “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ,” by Daniel Goleman
- “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl
- “The Authenticity Paradox,” Harvard Business Review, by Herminia Ibarra
- “Workism Is Making Americans Miserable,” The Atlantic, by Derek Thompson
- “The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- “The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking,” by Roger Martin
- “The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done,” by Peter Drucker
- “Switch: How to Change When Change Is Hard,” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
- “Adaptive Space: How Companies Are Positively Disrupting Themselves and Transforming into Agile Organizations,” by Michael Arena
Now is a great time to establish a new sustainable habit of reading more. Eventually, the world will return to a new version of normal, and we will go back to our offices and soccer games and dinners out. But for now, sit back with a good book and imagine the world that can be … and your place in it.
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