As an avid reader who is involved in leadership and management development and a firm believer in President Harry S Truman’s statement, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers,” for the past three years, in the December issues of The MBA Dispatch, I have provided this column’s readers with what I think is a list of books which any student of leadership or management should read, but I don’t think I have ever penned a column on “Why Read?”
Since March is National Reading Month and March 2 is National Reading Day, I thought this would be an appropriate time to remedy that situation.
President Truman, who many think was the best president this country ever had, never graduated from college, but he claimed to have read every book in the public library in Independence, Missouri.
In his article, “What all Great Leaders Have in Common,” Mike Myatt wrote,
All great leaders have one thing in common: They read voraciously. Did you know that the average American only reads one book a year? Worse than this is the fact that 60% of average Americans only get through the first chapter. Contrast this with the fact that CEOs of Fortune 500 companies read an average of four to five books a month. Even more impressive is that some of the most successful leaders throughout history were known to read one book every single day.
What is it that all these great leaders know that others do not?
- Reading is good for the brain – Roughly 300 years ago, be-fore modern science and research equipment could back up his claim, English essayist, poet, playwright and politician Joseph Addison wrote, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” Later scientific studies proved Addison was correct. Reading does make you smarter. It increases your vocabulary. Reading also increases blood flow and improves connectivity in the brain.
- Reading introduces you to new ideas and improves your problem solving skills – Have you ever solved a case in a mystery book before you read the conclusion or predicted a turn of events in a novel? If so, it was probably because your analytical thinking was stimulated from reading. Reading helps you detect patterns, solve problems, and assimilate new information as if you were living in the characters’ shoes.
- Reading makes you a better writer – When you read, your brain absorbs good writing techniques and vocabulary. In your own writing, you will unconsciously copy the writing styles of books that held your attention. Reading also enhances your vocabulary and spelling. New words appear in their natural context and you can deduce meaning from the surrounding words, while visually imprinting their spelling for accurate recall.
- Reading Improves your communication skills – Reading increases your both vocabulary and your knowledge of how to correctly use new words, as a result you can clearly articulate what you want to say. Reading also provides you with numerous subjects for conversations with others. If you listen to conversations of young children who are readers you will notice that their conversations tend to be much richer than those of nonreaders their age.
- Reading improves self-discipline and consistency – The barrage of media and instant access to technological information in today’s world has caused our attention spans to get shorter and shorter. Unlike skimming a webpage, reading a book forces you to focus. To get the most out of the story, you have to concentrate on the plot and complete the book. This forces your brain to form deep connections and to practice concentration.
- Reading increases your knowledge of history – Reading can teach you historical politics, customs, cultures, economics, and intellect. As a high school student, I hated history. It seemed to me to be a meaningless activity of recited name, date, and place (who, when, where). However, when I began to read biographies and historical fiction, I found that facts set in the context of a story made history easier to remember.
- Reading increases your knowledge of other cultures – Years ago, I read James A. Michener’s book, Hawaii. While the book was historical fiction, however, when I later vacationed in Hawaii, I realized that I had earned so much about Hawaii’s history and the culture of the Hawaiian people from Michener that it made the vacation significantly more enjoy-able than it would have been otherwise. By reading I have also learned a lot about the cultures of countries I have never visited.
- Reading increases your knowledge and skill in your area of interest – Reading about your specific field of work or your fields of interest can improve your success in your field. You’ll gain factual knowledge and learn from others’ experiences and mistakes. Since I love teaching leadership and management courses, I am a habitual reading in those areas.
- Reading reduces stress – Reading about something you enjoy or losing yourself in a good novel is an excellent way to relax. According to research performed at the University of Sussex reading can ease tension in your muscles and heart while letting your brain wander to new ideas and live in someone else’s shoes for a while.
If great leaders are readers and you are not, then why not start. You have nothing to lose and a lot to be gained.