Two Leading Thoughts ago, I described some of the virtues of a devoted reading life. In the last Leading Thoughts, I strongly recommended some books for your summer reading. Now, I want to describe some tactics for reading that are essential for leaders.

Most people read to kill time, fall asleep, or entertain themselves. Each of these have their place. Yet leaders want to get more out of their reading. They want to absorb philosophies and techniques that they can incorporate into their leadership lives. They want to master stories and quotes that become part of their communications arsenal. They want to live differently for the books they devour. In other words, they want to be changed and equipped by what they read, not just entertained.

This means they must be more intentional not only about what they read, but about how they read. Here are some tactics.

1. Mark Your Book
I know we were told in school not to write in our books. This was good advice then, but it limits us now. Hear me: anything worth reading is worth marking. By marking your book, you create a reference for future use, you help your brain to remember more, and you make the material your own. I mark both the paper books and the digital books I read. I insert symbols—question marks when I doubt something or don’t understand, exclamation marks when I agree or after the strong words of my disagreement. I have a little system for marking new thoughts and text I might want to quote later. Create your own system. Use it.

2. Make Your Own Index
The first thing I do when I start reading a book is create my own index. On a blank front or back page—or in the notetaking section provided with digital books—I keep a list of material that is important to me and put page numbers out beside each entry. With digital books, this indexing to page number is done for you. Again, not only is this personal indexing helping you remember what you read, it helps you refer back to the material later when you need it.

3. Share What You Learn
Studies reveal that when you talk about what you’ve learned in a book, you quadruple the depth and the length of your memory. In other words, the imprint of what you’ve read is deeper and you remember it longer—four times longer! So, when you get excited about something you’ve come upon in a book, talk about it. This is not only part of building a leadership culture around you, but it is also essential to pressing what you’ve learned more fully into your life.

4. Use Your Modality
Some of us are highly visual. We take in information mainly through our eyes. Others of us are highly auditory. We learn by hearing, but seeing is far less important to us. Still others of us are highly physical and kinesthetic. We feel our way to understanding. Whatever of these you are, use it for your benefit. Visual people should envision what they read and remember the pictures in their minds. Auditory people are often helped by reading aloud or listening to audiobooks. Kinesthetic people should move while they read or perhaps read in physically stimulating environments. There are many techniques to use and you can read about them online or in the many good books about modalities that are available. The important thing is that you use your gifts to enhance your learning.

Okay, that’s it. Go enjoy a summer of reading, but read like a leader, not like someone merely wanting to escape reality. Remember: read to lead.

Next Leading Thoughts, I’m moving on to new topics. Have a great weekend.


If you’re ready to “own” some of the books I recommended last week, you can get them here:
The American Spirit, David McCullough
The Illustrated Art of Manliness, Brett McKay
The Churchill Factor, Boris Johnson
1984, George Orwell
The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis
Use of Force, Brad Thor