Monday is For Habits: Leaders are Readers

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” – Harry Truman

A Powerful Principal 

My dad is a reader. If you’ve spent any amount of time around him that was probably obvious as he usually has a book or two in hand. He loves books because he loves learning. When I was in elementary school, I remember my dad bribing me to read by offering to pay me $5 per book I read. As I got older and into college, he kept pressing me to read by offering to pay for any book that I would read. Today, he regularly mails me books that he’s reading and enjoying. If we talk about books coming out soon that we are looking forward to, he will buy and send me a copy. I talked with a friend last week who told me that he ran into my dad in a parking lot and my dad gave him a handful of books that he had in his car. My dad has quoted Harry Truman more times than I can remember. He believes that leaders are readers or they won’t be leaders long.

A Perfect Example

Abraham Lincoln is an amazing example of this principal. Unlike most of our presidents who came from powerful or wealthy families and were groomed for a position of leadership on a large scale, Lincoln was born to a poor Kentucky family and had very few things given to him. He had to fight to get an education and he had to fight to move up as a leader. He consumed any book that he could get his hands on, so much so that they say he had borrowed and read any books within a 50-mile circuit of his home growing up. He grew up to co-own a general store. Consequently, he purchased a barrel in in a business deal and chanced to find a copy of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England in the bottom. As he read he became fascinated with the legal system and switched careers to become a lawyer. It was reading that educated him.  It was reading that prepared him. As a self-educated lawyer, he was ready to step up as the 16th President of the United States at one of the most tense times in our nation’s history. He brought wisdom that no doubt he had gleaned from all of his reading. This wisdom resulted in seeing the U.S. through the civil war and abolition. He was a leader in large part because he was a reader.

A Probing Question

Let me ask you a question…. When was the last time you read a book? It is wild to believe but they say around 1 in 4 adults will not read a single book this year. In the entire calendar year, they will not read a single book. That is coupled with the fact that they tell us the average adult will spend around 10 hours a day online. With the average teen spending 9 hours on social media and the average adult spending 2 hours on social media, it’s not that we aren’t reading. It’s that we aren’t reading anything that would be worthwhile or that would make you a leader.

A Plan to Succeed 

How can we develop some healthy habits as readers to become leaders? Let me give you four thoughts to help you become a better read and hopefully to be a more prepared leader.

Schedule your readings 

With work, school, a young family, and several other projects I am involved in like running an annual conference in Florida, making a movie, and constantly starting new house renovations, I don’t have nearly as much time as I would like to. If I don’t stay organized I not only won’t get things done but I will create more stress for myself that will make getting of those things done that much more difficult. I learned a few years ago that if I will take my class reading and divide it up over the semester and schedule it into my daily plan, I will get significantly more reading done. I schedule a 30 to 60-minute session for a chapter. That focus helps me knock out about a book to two a week.

Always have a book around 

I learned from my dad that if you always have a book with you, you will get a lot more reading done. You never know when someone will be late to meet you, when you will get stuck somewhere, or when you will find a free moment that you can redeem. Keeping a book in hand or in your bag will give you an opportunity to read and grow. I have really grown in this is by investing in a kindle (or simply just the app on my iphone/ipad) and keeping a lot of books with me wherever I am. When I moved to California in 2015 I couldn’t take all my books that I owned because it would have cost a small fortune to move them and without having an office to store them in, I knew there would be no place for all of them in our apartment. So, I purchased the Logos Bible Software and began replacing large portions of my physical library digitally. Studying for a sermon or class when I was traveling in a given week became significantly easier by being able to access my commentaries on my laptop. Maybe the most helpful way I have grown in this is by listening to audiobooks in the car. Think about how much time you spend in your car in a given week. You could probably knock out a book in a week or two just in your work commute. I have to drive a lot for work so I will download a book if I have a road trip and usually will get through the whole thing instead of just wasting that time listening to the radio. Never waste a minute if possible.

Read biographies 

I will be writing more on this later so I will just make a quick point now… You cannot sit down and have a meal with a lot of people but you can read their biography and learn a lot from them. A biography lets you learn how someone else responded to difficult situations and how they lived well or not so well. You can grow through what someone else went through if you will read biographies. It’s like compound interest for life, get more without having do as much.

Read wide but read well 

I point this out because social media may tell you what someone ate or thought about whatever is wrong in the world today but it won’t grow you as a leader. Social media has a legitimate place but it’s also a major distraction for most of us. Use it wisely. Read books that will help you grow and expand your pool of knowledge. I also want to encourage you to read outside of your normal range to learn more and to be able to think above your current level.  I read theological books almost exclusively. I love thinking about God. I have found that when I branch out and read a biography, a business book, a fictional work, or something random that it expands my ability to connect ideas and to understand ideas better. A friend once gave me a copy of Peter Capstick’s “Death in the Long Grass.” I remember getting in bed that night and opening the book to read it. Rachael started laughing. I asked her what was so funny and she said, “Why in the world are you reading that?” I honestly hadn’t thought about it but she pointed out that I normally read theological books so this was a sharp right turn from normal for me. Here’s what’s great, Captstick shared several stories on hunting lion’s specifically and how aggressive and scary the lions were. A few weeks later when I preached on spiritual warfare, God brought this book to mind and I was able to share how dangerous our enemy is and how like a lion he is prowling and seeking to destroy us. Reading wide give me a better ability to understand an idea.

One more thought here, in reading well, I am not just encouraging you to not waste your day on social media but don’t waste your time on a bad book. It’s ok to not finish a book. If you get the idea and you’re not locked in, put it down and move on. Reading is about learning and growing, so keep moving.

A Pleasurable Habit

Reading is honestly one of my greatest joys in life. It hasn’t always been that way, but as I developed the habit of reading it became more pleasurable. Developing a new habit is always work but this is work that is worth it. Reading makes you a leader because it helps you understand people, problems, life, and beauty. You will be a better person because you read than you would be if you didn’t. It’s a lifelong process of learning to learn and learning to live. As Dr. Seuss wisely said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”