Knowledge is the New Pedigree

“I cannot live without books.” The Library of Congress is my favorite place for inspiration. Specifically, the Thomas Jefferson exhibition, where those words penned by Jefferson, are displayed on the glass protecting some of our nations most valued treasures.

Photo Credit: © Can Stock Photo / kevron2001

My earliest childhood memories are from the Charles H. Stone Memorial Library. Whether borrowing my favorite series on the heroes of the Wild West, perched in an aisle for hours pouring through volumes on The World Wars, or engrossed in some riveting story of “G-Men,” I’ve had a love for books as long as I remember.

The Case for Books

In addition to parenting 13 children and working as a full-time machinist, my father was a pastor. He had a room filled with books where he prepared his messages.

My Mother, in her quest of homeschooling upwards of a dozen kids at a time, always acquired new books. History, novels, biographies, self-help, you name it; I still remember the feeling of anticipation, taking a new one to my room at bedtime, wondering what I’d discover.

She encouraged us to read whatever we were interested in. That instilled the practice and desire for reading, which has proven to be something life transforming.

I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad for the first time when I was 20. This began my insatiable appetite to study success. Since then, I’ve acquired over 500 books in my personal library. Admittedly, when my son was born, while simultaneously growing a new business, my reading habits fell off for a while. However, in the last year, I’ve ratcheted it back to 2–3 per month.

To Lead, You Must First Read

I’ve always heard, and you probably have too, the axiom, “leaders are readers and readers are leaders.” While there are certainly folks that don’t fit that description, I’ve found that most are.

George W. Bush had reading contests with staff members in the White House where he read 95 books a year! Bill Clinton was once asked if it was true, that he read over 300 books in a single year. His reply, “Well, that was 1982 and I didn’t have much else to do.”

Wow.

Teddy Roosevelt could read 2–3 a night. Lincoln traveled long distances just to borrow a book.

Without stories of each example, every great leader I’ve known or studied has been voracious in their reading appetite. From my mentors to known figures of recent year like Phil Knight, Oprah, LBJ, Madeline Albright, Nelson Mandela, etc. reading is constant.

My favorite example is of General James Mattis. He has a personal library of over 7,000 books and is one of the toughest leaders in our military. In a widely shared email, he addressed his response to those who “didn’t have time to read:”

“….the problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through other’s experiences, generally, a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men.

Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.”

Still Not Convinced?

Here are 3 compelling reasons why you should pursue the habit of reading:

  1. Heightened Awareness: With others worldview and experiences, you’ll solve life’s issues and problems through a different lens. The collected knowledge of all the different lessons you’ve read, like the General’s quote above, give us a broader view of the world. We can break down problems more quickly and think faster on our feet.
  2. Improved Language & Writing Skills: The act of absorbing volumes of written material gives us the structure, prose, and command of language that’s an advantage over those who would otherwise choose not to. Whether you draft contracts or write emails, reading gives you just the right word when you need it.
  3. Life Change: It transforms you into someone new. Five years from today, you’ll be the same person you are today, except for the books you read and the people you meet.

“Read good authors, that you may know what English is, you will find it to be a language very rarely written nowadays, and yet the grandest of all human tongues.” — Charles Spurgeon

I know what you’re thinking. “How can I read all these books?” I mean, seriously, we have a difficult enough time making it through a blog post, let alone a 60,000-word book.

Consuming vast quantities of books can be daunting. What helped me was investing in the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Course. It’s expensive but so worth it! We learn to read at the speed we speak, but actually, can at the speed we think.

Question: How has reading helped you? What are you reading now?

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