Leaders are Readers…are Leaders…

I am not sure where I first heard the phrase “leaders are readers,” but the idea resonates with me more and more. As fellow educators, my instinct tells me that we all agree with this in principle, but showing it in practice can quickly become one of those forgotten resolutions of 2013.

"The Bookworm" by Carl SpitzwegPhoto by John McNab on Flickr
“The Bookworm” by Carl Spitzweg Photo by John McNab on Flickr

Today’s post is simple and straightforward and so I hope you take some time to reflect on it. One of the personal goals I set for myself for this year is to read multiple books in a variety of categories: education, leadership, personal growth, biographies, and fun stuff. And everyone needs a “fun stuff” category. For me, it is represented by books such as the Hobbit – you know, there are some days that living in the Shire growing my garden and sitting on my porch really sound inviting to me.

As educators, much is competing for our time and amidst the chaos, it is critical that we engage with ideas outside our own to cause us to ponder, question, and view things in ways that push the envelope of our own thinking. Reading thrusts me forward even when I am uncomfortable with wanting to be moved in the first place. But it opens new lands of thought and action for me and that I do need. The beloved Dr. Seuss said it well: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

And so the prodding today comes from Dr. Al Mohler in his book The Conviction to Lead.

As a general rule, clichés are to be avoided. The statement that leaders are readers is an exception to that rule. When you find a leader, you have found a reader. The reason for this is simple–there is no substitute for effective reading when it comes to developing and maintaining the intelligence necessary to lead…Leadership requires a constant flow of intelligence, ideas, and information. There is no way to gain the basics of leadership without reading.

Leading by conviction demands an even deeper commitment to reading and the mental disciplines that effective reading establishes. Why? Because convictions require continual mental activity. The leader is constantly analyzing, considering, defining, and confirming the convictions that will rule his leadership…

Leaders know that reading is essential, as it is the most important means of developing and deepening understanding. That is why leaders learn to set aside a significant amount of time for reading. We simply cannot lead without a constant flow of intellectual activity in our minds, and there is no substitute for reading when it comes to producing this flow.

A well-stated piece of advice for us all.

Reflection: Why do you think leadership demands “readership”? How is reading helping your own development?

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7 thoughts on “Leaders are Readers…are Leaders…

  1. Great thoughts Antone! First, I think reading develops an aspect of emotional intelligence (which I’ve read is the highest predictor of leadership attainment) through seeing the arguments of others and rejecting, sympathizing and empathizing with their thoughts from the privacy of your own thoughts and audience. Second, readers develop maxims or best practices from understanding others. Covey says “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” All others can add value to our thoughts…it’s harder to find in some than others though:)

    • Definitely agree with your thoughts, especially your comments on leadership. If our assumptions are never challenged or stretched, how can we expect to be fresh and cutting-edge leaders in our thought-processes? Ruts of thinking do not lead to new paths. Thanks for great comments, Bobby.

  2. The first time I heard the phrase leaders are readers was at a business seminar in 1983. Reading is something we can learn to like.

    • Thanks for your comments, Don. And I would agree that reading is something that can “grow on you.” One of the problems I see is that people, in general, live with very little margin in their life and those activities that sharpen us get set aside. We have become such a task-oriented society that “doing” and “activity” rule the day. Reading can be seen as just a leisurely activity when in actuality reading is work in and of itself. It is the stirring of ideas and the challenging of assumptions that lead to better leadership and decision-making. Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. I think that one of the most important things that college teachers can do is read the scholarship on teaching and learning in higher ed. Maryellen Weimer’s book that you cite in your first post on this blog is as good a place to start as any other. Also, for anyone interested, here’s a list of other recommendations: http://teachingandlearninginhighered.org/reading-lists/

    I agree we all ought to be reading all sorts of things. (I do love The Hobbit.) But I think that there has been a serious disconnect in particular in regards to teachers not reading the research that exists on what it is that they do. I don’t think that individual teachers are to blame for this. Most of the time, we are not supported or encouraged or expected to learn about learning. But I do think that individual teachers can make a difference by going against the grain and reading on teaching and learning anyway.


    Paul T. Corrigan
    Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed.

    • Paul – thanks so much for you thoughts and contribution. Couldn’t agree with you more on your assessment. Reading for the sake of improving one’s craft I believe has been lost, and unfortunately lost to the “art of the busy life.” The only way I grow as an educator is by having my thoughts and assumptions challenged and much of that comes through reading. And I love the process of learning and try to overflow that to my students. By the way, I really like your site – I have spent some time perusing and love the emphasis you provide. I would like to make mention of it in my blog soon for others to be aware of. Good stuff.

      I appreciate your reading this post and for your valuable comments, Paul. Hope to have you back!

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