“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.
The Case for Books
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 have had a love for books as long as I remember.
My father, in addition to parenting all 13 of us and working as a full-time machinist, pastored churches. He had a room filled with books where he prepared messages.
Mother, in her quest of homeschooling upwards of a dozen kids at a time, was always acquiring new books. 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, that has proven to be something life transforming.
When I was 20, I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad for the first time. 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.”
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 the mentors that coached me, to known figures of recent year like Phil Knight, Oprah, LBJ, Madeline Albright, Nelson Mandela, etc. reading is a constant with all.
My favorite example is of General James Mattis. One of the toughest leaders in our military, he’s been known to have a personal library of over 7,000 books. 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 for anyone to pursue the habit of reading:
Heightened Awareness: With the worldview and experiences of others lodged in your memory, 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
Improved Language & Writing Skills: The act of absorbing volumes of written material give us the structure, prose, and command of language that’s an advantage over those that would otherwise choose not to. Whether you draft contracts or write emails, reading gives you just the right word when you need it.
“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
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.
Consuming vast quantities of books can be a daunting task. What helped me was taking the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Course. It’s expensive but so worth it! Take the course for specifics but it’s built on this premise: We’ve learned 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?