It is May 1st as I write these words. Each year on this date, my thoughts turn to reading. This is because the first of May is for me the emotional first day of summer. I look forward to all that summer holds—the travel, the sports, the outdoor life, the preparation for fall and winter—but there is a special place in my heart for summer reading.
The summer months are usually when we have a bit more down time. We vacation, we laze in back yards, and we have more unclaimed hours. Studies show that most of us read more during these months than we do during the rest of the year. This is why every spring I urge the leaders I work with to get intentional about their reading before the busyness of fall takes over.
As you know well if you are a regular reader of Leading Thoughts, I’m committed to the idea that we must “read to lead.” In all the advising of leaders I have done in my life, I have never known an effective leader who was not also a devoted reader. Since great leaders hunger for knowledge and perspective, since they long for new skills and best practices, they are naturally eager readers.
These are the main reasons that leaders read and I am glad for them. However, I want to offer some other reasons that get far less attention.
First, I believe that a reading life is an antidote to the draining pace most leaders live. We live in manic times. Our devices dominate us, instant communications demand attention, and time for thought and reflection slips away. This makes us less wise, less centered, and less creative. If I can get a leader to read an hour a day, he or she will simply become a better human being and thus a better leader.
Second, a reading life is an indicator of the state of the soul. If I am churned up about a tough decision I have to make or an insult I’ve endured or a trend in my firm, I will find it mitigating against my reading. This alerts me that my soul is not in good shape, that what keeps me from reading meaningfully also keeps me from connecting with other people and being my best. My reading is a barometer for the state of my soul.
Third, reading takes me out of myself and gives me perspective on the world. Even if what I’m reading is unrelated to my work, just exiting my own skin for awhile and seeing life from the perspective of others is meaningful. One of the greatest hindrances of great leadership is lack of imagination. Reading fuels imagination and thus fuels great leadership.
Finally, reading makes us more authentic. Most every leader I know quotes Winston Churchill whether they know anything about him or not. Yet if you have followed Churchill on the page through the agonies of World War II or the dark days of his own childhood, you know the man. He becomes a companion, someone you cite with passion and knowledge rather than as mere performance. There are a million other examples I could cite, but here’s the certain truth: authentic leadership grows, in part, from authentic reading.
I’ll have more on this next week, including some recommended reading for you. In the meantime, have a great weekend.