How to Step Up Your Reading Game to Become a Better Leader
“Leaders should be readers.” It’s not an unfamiliar phrase, at least not for those of us in the publishing world. Time and time again, studies show that reading enhances memory, empathy, vocabulary, creativity, and the list goes on and on. While these are qualities that everyone should strive for, they’re especially important to leaders who balance people skills, analytical thinking, artistic expression, and more on a regular basis.
Yet, as of November 2016, Pew Research found that a quarter of adults in the U.S. haven’t read a book in the last year. Aside from the frustration it creates for the folks in my industry, this statistic should be worrisome to everyone because it indicates that a significant portion of people in the U.S., leaders and workers alike, don’t view reading as an essential activity. What if you’re a leader who hates to read? Maybe your day is simply filled to the brim with work, kids, side-hustle, exercise, volunteering, basic home and self-care, to the point that you barely have time for anything recreational.
Many people have little time for reading, but for those who have big plans for their careers, it’s too valuable of a resource to give up. Leaders who are empathetic, attentive to detail, even-tempered, and creative have the opportunity to be more effective and influential than ever, and reading is a surefire way to develop those qualities. Here are a few tips to start reading and boost your leadership skills.
Start with something that you’re interested in, then branch out
If we read at all these days, we tend to gravitate toward content that we agree with. The problem this poses for leaders is that the less someone reads, the less exposed he or she is to new ideas and perspectives that challenge his or her own ideas. A leader who has a one-track mind is far more likely to be blindsided by competitors or employees who don’t feel like they’re being heard.
You can find books on just about every subject, so make a list of the things you’re passionate about (especially if they apply to your career) and find a few books on those topics. Try to finish at least one book a month, and once you’re in the routine, branch out to something you wouldn’t normally pick up. If there’s a thought leader in your industry that you admire, for example, find a book by one of his or her competitors.
Sometimes an aversion to reading stems from disinterest in the action (or lack thereof) of reading. For some people who are most engaged when they’re dancing, running, playing sports, or working with their hands, the idea of sitting still for an extended period of time can be unappealing. However, reading doesn’t have to be an all-day commitment to count, and challenging yourself to do something daily that’s good for you but that you don’t enjoy builds discipline and sets a great example for your team.
Find online articles or books about topics of interest and dedicate fifteen minutes a day to reading. Over time you can increase it to thirty minutes or even an hour, depending on your schedule. If you’re motivated by signs of personal growth and rewards, take notes about what you learned from the day’s reading session, and reward yourself with something you enjoy for every ten, fifteen, or twenty consecutive reading sessions.
Make it a team effort
If you’re motivated by accountability, you may benefit from joining/starting a book club or agreeing to a monthly book swap with a friend. Having a group of friends or co-workers around you who hold you accountable to reading can become an incentive in itself, and consistent meetings to talk about what you’ve read are a great place to discuss what you love and hate about a book.
If you’re a team leader, make an effort to start a monthly book club with your employees and co-workers. (Snacks are a great motivator.) Alternatively, you can make it a habit to ask your employees what they’re reading at their check-ins and share what you’re reading. The more you inspire a reading culture on your team, the more growth and satisfaction you’re bound to see from your employees.
With all of the other responsibilities that come with being a leader, it can difficult to make reading a priority. Keep in mind the unending benefits of reading for your personal and professional life, and find small ways to work reading into your day, and you’ll see your own success and that of your team grow exponentially.7