The most successful leaders share a few common activities. They often report getting up earlier than most people (5am is a common start time), they exercise daily, and they read constantly. These habits are often shared as secret ingredients for their success. In particular, executives believe that reading frequently helps exercise their brain in unique ways while helping them broaden their perspective. Additionally, it helps support the creative thinking and problem-solving processes they need to address today’s complex, ambiguous problems. Essentially, if you’ve read enough books, then someone, somewhere has shared how they addressed the problem you’re currently trying to solve.
So, why aren’t we all reading more frequently? Who has the time?
We’re all guilty of using a “lack of free time” as an excuse for not reading more. But, if we compiled the minutes we spend on social media, binge-watching on Netflix, and window-shopping on Amazon, we’d have more than enough time to read a book per week. We don’t need more time. We need motivation.
I recently joined a unique book club. In most book clubs, one book is selected at a time, and the club regularly meets to discuss their thoughts as they read and process the information. The book club I joined had a different approach. Each person selected a different book, and we all met a month later to discuss the biggest insights we drew from our reading. We held a loosely organized rapid-fire session where each person had 10-15 minutes to share why they selected their book (i.e. how they hoped to address their own self-development goals), the main points, and the ways they’ll adjust their behavior based on what they read. At the end of the hour, it was as if we’d received the Cliff’s Notes version of five top leadership books.
An interesting common theme emerged as each member shared their insights with the group. Nearly every person said “I mean, this isn’t anything I didn’t know already, but it’s a good reminder of the ways I can optimize my behavior.” I remember thinking that exact same thing as I read my book, and yet I also found myself writing reminders on Post-it Notes so I can be more mindful of my own behaviors every day. While the concepts shared in the books weren’t particularly novel, there’s a reason these leadership books are on the Best Seller’s list. While we know that nearly every critical leadership behavior is built on the foundation of accountability, communication, empathy, and courage, we often fail to display those values/behaviors while under pressure. Reading helps remind us of the small, simple acts that create major results.
The longer time goes on after reading a book, the more we forget to practice what we’ve learned. Reading constantly (and joining a good book club) is a great way to keep best practices top-of-mind as we go about our daily activities.
Consider creating a book club with your friends and colleagues so you can exercise your brain and learn from one another. But take your book club to the next level by embedding a degree of accountability into the design. Each person could identify 1-2 behaviors they want to focus on improving between meetings, and then they can share the results at the next book club gathering. It’s a great way to stay connected to colleagues, sharpen your intelligence, and accelerate your self-development all at once.