It has been said that ‘leaders are readers’ primarily because leaders are thinkers. But what kind of things are leaders reading/thinking about? Thomas Jefferson said, “The man who reads nothing at all is better informed than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” Perhaps if Jefferson were living today he might exchange the word newspapers for ‘CNN’ or ‘Fox Evening News.’ When all we read and consume is popular media like newspapers, magazines, television, radio, the most recent Danielle Steel novel or a blog post we let others decide for us what is important to think about. As leaders it is imperative that we determine the things that are important on which to spend our time thinking.
Another reason why consuming only popular media is a bad thing for our leadership ability is the fact that it is designed to force us to think in a binary fashion. Is this right or wrong, black or white, good or bad? This type of thinking capitalizes on the emotion rather than the higher brain function where reasoning takes place. As leaders we know that this is not a binary world of decisions we are living in. If we made all our decisions based on emotion the organizations we lead would devolve into diffuse and impotent albeit well meaning small groups. Our world is a world of wisdom whereby we must make a choice between shades of grey. Often there is no obvious black and white choice but 3 or 4 or 10 options any one of which we could choose and none of which we have enough information about in order to be absolutely certain that the right choice has been made.
This is where the right kind of reading comes in to play. Leaders are by definition decision-makers. Decision-making takes place in the realm of strategy. And to make a solid strategic decision requires that in the absence of hard facts the appropriate moves are made to place the necessary resources to accomplish the necessary tasks to accomplish the mission more effectively. But because decision-making takes place in the fire of a host of ever-changing variables it becomes important to understand not just what you are trying to accomplish but also the context in which it is to be accomplished. This means that a leader must have a good grasp on human nature, on the nature of diplomacy, on the nature of the use of power, etc. The only way to understand these all important categories is through reading, and not just reading good books about leadership. Leaders need to be reading the ‘classics.’
Books that stand the test of time from generation to generation. Classic literature is the only type of medium that can communicate the sweeping themes, categories and ideas necessary to help a leader not just ignite the passion of their followers but to understand the dynamics involved in accomplishing something unique and valuable in this world. Literature is truly the only form of communication that is unbounded by the restrictions of current events and facts. A narrative can communicate that which needs to be communicated. God in His infinite wisdom understanding how he created mankind to be part of a larger epic story used different forms of literature to communicate the nature of fallen humanity, the transcendent character of God in whose image we are made, the history of redemption, and how each of us has a part to play. He uses narrative, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, letters, and even apocryphal literature to connect men’s actions today with the sweeping epic grandeur of a great cosmic strategy. There are other texts that have stood the test of time to a lesser extent than the Bible such as The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli, Plato’s Republic, and Homer’s Illiad.
Steven Sample said in his book, “The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership” recommends reading what he calls “super texts” 20 minutes per day. This translates into 120 hours of solid leadership reading every year! Leaders, you are what you read. Disciplined reading results in disciplined thought which results in focused action.
To read more check out the new Linear Service Model blog post HERE.