Great leaders read. It’s a short sentence but it is layered with meaning. What is it about reading that makes it such a universal passion among people who are best suited to lead people and organizations? Is it that leaders read books that contain all the answers? Not likely. The realities of today’s rapidly changing market place have no historical precedent. 21st century business leaders must handle challenges that have never been seen before.
The role reading plays in the lives of leaders is more complex. The very act of reading creates physical changes to the brain’s structure and chemistry. Active readers literally develop minds that are better suited for leadership roles. Reading alone does not create great leaders, but all great leaders are readers. Here’s why:
- Reading Literally Creates Better Thinkers. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Think about everything involved in the act of reading. It is a continuous exercise for the brain in recognizing and decoding symbols, finding patterns, assessing meaning and creating a comprehensive and complex web of understanding.
- Reading increases the Rate and Accuracy of Evaluating Business Challenges. Similar to the ability of creating meaning from the written word, avid readers actually build the capacity to take input from events around them and evaluate circumstances. Avid readers possess a greater ability to evaluate, assess and formulate options than do their peers that read less. Makes sense. The jump from critical reading to critical thinking is really just a matter of context and application.
- Reading Leaders Are Better Communicators. Reading is a primary contributor to language proficiency. When we read, we develop vocabulary and the conceptual skills needed to build comprehension. The process of communicating with others takes these same skills and applies them in new ways. Actively listening, processing and responding to other people’s ideas engages the same cognitive skillsets utilized by reading.
- Reading Develops “People Skills”. This connection between reading and interpersonal skills is counterintuitive to many people. The classical stereotype of a “bookworm” lost in an alternate reality doesn’t match with the image of an engaging, charismatic leader. But, it’s true…at least, in part. Research shows that readers that consume character-based content rich in emotion and drama (such as fiction or certain biographical non-fiction) develop higher “emotional quotients”. EQ directly translates into a wide range of measureable interpersonal capabilities.
- Reading Reduces Stress. The idea of people “escaping into a good book” has been around for millennia. There is even a category of specialists skilled in prescribing just the right material for the moment: bibliotherapists! It should surprise no one that research has been able to connect the act of reading to the reduction of or enhanced ability to deal with many forms of stress. Interestingly, the books deemed to be the most effective relievers of stress are not necessarily the syrupy, indulgent novels. Books that foster deep thought, reflection and concentration are also the most effective at providing stress-relief.
Ground breaking thoughts by great leaders have always been exchanged through books and literature. Leaders consume and write literature. Written words have sparked, influenced and captured important events since the beginning of our collective memory. The great challenges of the 21st century will be met and overcome by leaders who have honed their skills and capabilities through their habits of reading.