My favorite quotation (and yes, the word is “quotation;” “quote” is a verb, thank you) from Harry S Truman (and no, there’s no period after the “S,” because it’s not an abbreviation; “S” was his entire middle name — my goodness, I’m being irritatingly picky today!) is this one:
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
But my second favorite quotation from Harry S Truman is this one:
“Not all readers are leaders…but all leaders are readers.”
(Before I go on, perhaps I should point out that we’re talking about “leaders” here, not “people who happen to have the title of ‘leader.’” They are not necessarily the same thing.)
It’s a simple equation: if you want to be a great leader, you need to be a great reader.
In a wonderful article from StartUs Magazine, Dave Olsen outlines five reasons for leaders to be readers:
- Reading elevates us above our current situation.
- Reading multiplies our experiences.
- Reading allows us to spend time with smart people.
- Reading can quickly build our expertise.
- Reading gives us an escape.
If at least three out of five of these reasons don’t excite you, then you have no business calling yourself a leader. That’s because most of these reasons are about growth, and if you’re not interested in growing, then you shouldn’t be in a position of influence over others. Period.
All of this, of course, begs the question: what should you be reading?
That’s up to you. But over the years I’ve developed a loose system for myself, and I invite you to steal it (or any part of it) for yourself.
My “system” is this. I always have a least four books going at any given time:
- A non-fiction book on my area of expertise. For me, this means Leadership, Creativity/Innovation, and Producing Under Pressure. Currently, I’m reading Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To.
- A non-fiction book to help build my business. This could include sales, marketing, social media, branding, networking, or any of a number of other topics. Currently, I’m reading All About Them: Grow Your Business By Focusing On Others by my friend Bruce Turkel.
- A non-fiction book that has nothing to do with my business. These tend to be — although not exclusively — biographies and histories. Sometimes I’ll intentionally pick a topic in which I don’t necessarily have an interest (and often, the book will change my mind). Because of growth. Currently, I’m reading Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII.
- A fiction book. Preferably quality fiction (I tend to seek out Man Booker Prize finalists and winners), but occasionally just a fun “airplane book” read. This is my nighttime, just-before-bed reading. I just finished A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, and am starting Ian McEwan’s The Innocent.
I’m not saying you need to be reading four books all the time. But if you want to be a leader, you do need to read. Reading needs to be a priority, and it needs to be scheduled on your calendar.
Because Harry S Truman was right.