Read to Lead

A popular axiom in leadership circles says, “Leaders are readers, and readers are leaders.” As is the case with all axioms, this is a bit of an overstatement. Nonetheless, there’s no question that if you dig into the personal habits of a leader, generally you’ll find books.

There are many reasons why reading is endemic to leadership. First, leadership involves ideas, and our ideas become stagnant in our minds unless other ideas stir and stretch them. Reading exposes us to ideas that we otherwise might not have come into contact with.

Second, reading gives us language and concepts that make it easier to articulate ideas we already have, and synthesize thoughts that have been floating around in our minds. Often we find that a writer is able to express with eloquence a question or a dilemma we have already faced.

Third, reading forces us to sharpen or even change our thinking as we consider contrary viewpoints. This ensures that when we express a plan, a direction, or a challenge to those we lead, we will do so in the most meaningful and persuasive terms possible. We save others trouble, and ourselves credibility, by cutting away an argument’s fat or incoherence before we make it public.

Fourth, as John Piper has expressed, reading enables us to turn wise people who are no longer living into our teachers. Writing is a wonderfully stable medium of communication; so long as an author pens words on a substrate that doesn’t decay easily, we can preserve those words for posterity.

Fifth, reading provides leadership fodder. Many Christians desire to lead others and have a positive impact on their lives. Without a steady stream of exposure to the Bible and other helpful information, one’s counsel eventually becomes stale and repetitive. Reading material is often the seedbed of ideas that God wants us to plant in others’ minds.

This apologetic for reading gives way to an important practical question: how can an aspiring leader boost his reading and the benefits he gains from it? Below we offer some practical answers to this question.

  1. Read good books.
    This is easier said than done in an era teeming with texts. Often it helps to choose works that are recommended in various book reviews. Book reviews are readily available on the Internet, and many publications, such as Christianity Today, offer free up-to-date book reviews (you can find CT’s reviews here). Christian leaders can get an outside-the-box perspective on a wide variety of literature, including classic literature, by subscribing to Ryan Holiday’s monthly reading list email here (just be prepared for some colorful language if you go this route). Keep in mind that the recommendations are as reputable as the reviewer.
  2. Keep a list of books to read.
    Once you find books you’d like to read, it helps to catalog them so that you can select your next book without trouble. The best tool I have found for this purpose is Shelfari, a site that gives you a visual representation of your book list, and also tracks what books you’ve read and when you’ve read them.
  3. Try to read x minutes each day.
    Some people are so disposed to reading that this guideline is unnecessary. For many of us, though, our reading is feast or famine. One way to combat this tendency is to establish a baseline of perhaps 15 or 30 minutes of reading per day. Small but consistent periods of reading really add up.
  4. Read authors you disagree with.
    Many readers live in a sort of informational echo chamber, which reduces their capacity for witness since non-Christians naturally don’t agree with many things Christians believe. A relatively non-threatening way to begin this practice is to read editorials or op-ed pieces in newspapers.

What tactics have helped you become a better reader? Let us know in the comments!

Like what you’re reading?

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