By G. A. Finch
It may sound trite but it is generally true that “leaders are readers.” That is not to say that an uneducated person cannot be a leader in his or her own way; nevertheless, reading has its advantages. We have read or heard that Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, among many other successful business people, are/were avid readers. Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson read books as far into old age as they physically could and prized their personal libraries. Benjamin Franklin valued books so much that he created the first lending library in America, and we know what a wise and accomplished man he was.
More recent presidents, like William Jefferson Clinton and Barack Obama, are known to like to pick up a book. Whatever your politics may be, Clinton and Obama sound erudite, do they not? Their knowledge enables them to sound more persuasive and sound more credible, does it not? An effective executive seeks to become well read by reading often and reading a variety of genres.
Comparable to reading, but not as much as a deep-seated learning and not, I believe, as satisfying, would be listening to audio books and podcasts and watching substantive videos. In reading, you have time to ponder, contemplate, linger over and ultimately process the content. One’s listening to audio or watching videos constitutes a more passive brain activity than the act of reading. It is, of course, better than no learning activity.
The most cerebral people I know voraciously read books and periodicals. They are well versed on many topics and subjects and are able to connect them, contrast them, compare them, analogize them, extrapolate from them and meaningfully unpack them.
The act of reading or listening to books is the intention and commitment to learn new things and to be in a continuously learning mode – kind of like a continuing liberal arts education. Especially now, the intention-and-commitment-to-learn mode has become imperative given that the rate of expansion of knowledge and innovation seems to double whether in hours, weeks, months or years depending on the field.
My base technology knowledge as a 15-year old was rather primitive and quaint compared to my 15-year-old son who knows how to put together a computer from off-the-shelf components and to program a robot. He reads articles and blogs on the internet and watches YouTube videos when he wants to learn how to do something. That is useful learning. However, he and my teenage daughter and most other teenagers I know do not do enough reading of books, let alone wide and deep reading of books. I fear their writing and critical thinking skills and broad base knowledge could suffer. My base general knowledge as a teenager was far greater than theirs is. I attribute this gap to the fact that I had read many more books by their ages.
By reading, you learn how to write better by seeing word usage, different vocabulary, grammar, punctuation and syntax and hearing in the mind’s ear the writer’s voice. As I alluded earlier about being well versed, by reading you also know more about different topics to inform your professional or social conversations with others. It can make your conversations more interesting. Moreover, by reading you bring to bear more knowledge to understand and solve problems and ask the right questions in your work whether it be professional or volunteer work. When you face industry disruption, must be a change agent, or need to reinvent your business or yourself, your store of knowledge from reading will come in handy!
For those for whom reading does not come readily because of lack of habit or interest, or busyness, the trick is to approach it like starting any new program (like physical exercise or learning a new language): begin lightly with 15 minutes a day and incrementally work your way up to a robust hour. You may just remember or find what you have been missing all these years: the joys of reading. You will certainly grow smarter. Oh, and by the way, if you have trouble falling asleep at night, start reading a book; it is quicker and healthier than a sleeping pill.
Copyright © 2017 by G. A. Finch, All rights reserved.