Harry S. Truman famously remarked that “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
It is sad, though, that there really does seem to be a decline in how much we read. Some people lament that they simply don’t have enough time to read. The time excuse really isn’t very credible. We all have exactly the same amount of time — 24 hours a day! When we say that we don’t have enough time — whether it’s for exercise, playing with our children, or getting to know our colleagues — what we really mean is that something isn’t a priority.
According to the National Endowment for the Arts, “reading has declined among every group of adult Americans,” and for the first time in American history, “less than half of the U.S. adult American population is reading literature.”
Perhaps the competition for our attention has simply become too intense. Social media, computer games, and television all seem to demand our time and attention when we could be reading. But there is quite a lot of compelling, hard-nosed data that suggests that the reading habit leads to very desirable social and economic outcomes. A study of 6,000 people born in the United Kingdom concludes that children’s test scores are even more strongly correlated to how often they read than to the other strong predictor, the education of their parents.
Leaders have one thing in common. They tend to read much more than the average American, who reads only one book a year. CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, by contrast, read four to five books a month!
Some of the benefits of reading include:
- Reading is a very efficient way of building competitive intelligence. You can learn about your competitors, the economic landscape, and identify threats and opportunities earlier.
- Reading broadens your perspective. It is often said that leaders can multiply their effectiveness by the number of points of view they have considered. Reading provides you with perspectives you may have never thought about before.
- Reading helps sharpen your social acumen. It makes you a more well-rounded person, and provides you with useful material that you can discuss with your colleagues, your customers, and your friends.
- Good leaders recognize that the key to leadership is an insatiable appetite for learning using every possible resource. They also know that if anyone on your team suspects that you lack intellectual curiosity or a willing to learn, any instinct to follow your direction will quickly evaporate.
- Reading provides a wonderful avenue to relax. Almost every leader has found that the best way to solve a problem is sometimes to think about something completely different. One study suggests that only six minutes of reading can reduce stress by 68%. Somerset Maugham once observed, “To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.”
So, as a good leader, you should always be able to provide an answer if someone asks you what you’re reading at the moment. Your books don’t all have to be about business. A good novel can often teach you far more than any business guru.
For those of you with children, remember that there is almost nothing more effective than cultivating the reading habit in kids. I read to my children pretty much every night when they were young, and I am so glad that they have developed a lifelong habit of books and reading.
Finally, thank you, dear reader, for reading this post. It shows you’re one step ahead in becoming a habitual reader.