Leaders are readers. Every leader is a reader. Not all readers are leaders but all leaders are readers. A lot of people read but they’re not leaders. If you’re going to lead, you’ve got to be thinking further in advance than the people that you’re leading.

Four reasons for reading:

1. I read for inspiration and motivation.

Harold Ockenga said, “Read to refill the walls of inspiration”.
Personally, I feel few things get me out of sluggishness than reading a good book. It gets my creative juices flowing. So the first thing I do is read for inspiration. You never underestimate the power of a book. Somebody once did a study and discovered that for every word in Hitler’s Mein Kamph, a 125 people were destroyed in World War II. That’s the power of a book. One little book yet it caught the imagination of a generation and we had WWII.

Thomas Carlyle said “The best effect of any book is that it excites the reader to activity” You ought to read books that motivate you, stimulates you, help you get going.

2. Sharpen my skills.

Aldous Huxley said, “Every man who knows how to read has in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the way in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting.” Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. Your mind is a muscle and just like any muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. You cannot wear out your mind. No one ever died of an overused mind. We only use about two percent of our brainpower and even geniuses only use about five percent.

Just like every other professional, have to continually be upgrading your skills. The way you do that is through reading.

Make a list of the skills that are needed for your role. Then read on a regular basis. Like in my area I try to read a book on training, leadership, team development, coaching, human change and influence. I kind of alternate between different skills that I’m continually trying to develop so that I go back and forth, always trying to improve.

Somebody has said the average salesman doesn’t read a book a year. And that’s why he’s the average salesman. He’d be extraordinary if he’d just start reading, sharpening his skills.

3. To learn from others.
It’s wise to learn from experience but it’s wiser to learn from the experience of others. All of us learn by the school of hard knocks — trial and error. But we don’t have time to make all the mistakes ourselves. If the only way you learn is by experience, you’ll spend your entire life and by the time you get through life you’ll know it all but then you die, you can’t use it. So it is wise to learn from experience, but it’s wiser to learn from the experience of others. Listen to podcasts, go to seminars, read books, look at magazines, watch documentaries.

Socrates said, “Employ your time in improving yourselves by other men’s documents, so you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for.” Doesn’t that make sense? Why waste all your time learning everything the hard way? Why not learn it the simple way – learning from the experience of others. Employ your time reading what other men have already learned and then you can learn much easier what others have labored hard for.

Everybody has something to teach you. I have assimilated lots of good ideas from many different sources and put them together in a new format and that’s what creativity is. Creativity is taking existing ideas – because there’s no truth that’s original, all truth has been around forever. Truth is never originated; it’s discovered. When you discover it, you just put it into a new format, and you learn from others.

Sir Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than other men, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Every generation ought to be able to go further than the previous because they’ve got a bigger base of knowledge to move from.

By reading books, you get to interact with people you’ve never met, you get to see how the great minds think. You set in a great company of people by reading biographies. I’ve been influenced by people who’ve died even before I was even born. Yet they’ve had an impact on my life. Guys who were dead even before I was born. Through the medium of a book, I’m influenced by them. We only learn best by models anyway.

I think everybody ought to read biographies. When you see the lives of great people, it challenges you to develop your skills. I have found, even with guys who are alive today, I often learn much more through a man’s book, than I do through an interview.
We learn from other people.

4. We need to stay current in the changing world.

A casual glance at a person’s library often tells you a lot about that person. If books are any indication of personal growth a lot of people have stopped thinking when they got out of school. You go into their library and all they’ve got are former university books and some old novels. They don’t have anything new.

Stay current. In today’s society obsolescence comes very quickly. You can write a science textbook and by the time it gets to press it’s out of date. We’ve got to continually read to stay current. You have to keep growing and keep learning.

With that as a background I want to talk with you about six or seven ways on how to get more out of your reading to get the most out of it.


Ask yourself some basic questions like: Is my reading planned or is it spasmodic? People will often offer you books to read but that does not mean you should automatically read them. I had a guy come to me two weeks ago and hand me a book of about 500 pages and said he’d like for me to read it. He paid $25 for that book. To read through 300 pages it’s going to take me at least a full day. So he’s paying me $25 dollars for a day of my time. It’s not worth it. So analyze your reading and say “What are things that are going to help me?” because there are many books that aren’t going to help you at all.

How many books do I read per year? Do I ever read outside my area of interest? Mark Twain said this: “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who can’t read.” Analyze your reading.


I know that you are competent for the role you are currently doing, but are you ready and competent for the next role you want to do? All of us must keep growing, keep reading, keep developing ourselves so we are prepared.

The schedule is going to vary with each person. You have to decide the time that’s best for you, whenever you think best – probably when you’re uninterrupted. I read primarily at night. There’s very little on the television that’s worthwhile. So I get several hours of reading in a day just in the evenings. Television is the greatest enemy of reading. It’s so easy to come home from work, flip on the TV, put your mind in neutral and all of a sudden 7:00 becomes 11:00 and you’ve wasted four hours and it’s done nothing for you. If you just set aside fifteen minutes a day you’ll read up to two dozen books a year. That means in a normal lifetime, you would read over 1000 books. That’s equivalent to going through college five times.

I try to read a minimum of three books a month. They’re not real thick, most of them. Learning to read faster – and I’m not a speed-reader – and learning to read better is just a matter of discipline. There are a lot of books out that will teach you how to read faster. It has nothing to do with intelligence. Many books could teach you how to read faster. Establish your reading goal of how many books you want to read a year.

I always keep a book or podcast with me. I never go to a doctor’s office without a book. There’s reading material there but it’s not the kind of stuff I need. I never go on a plane, sit in an airport without books or listening to a podcast. All of that waiting time is useful time if you become a snatch reader. Schedule it.

Andrew Carnegie said, “A man’s reading program should be as carefully planned as his daily diet for that too is food without which he cannot grow mentally.” The biggest mistake we make is that each of us tends to concentrate on our own favorite field. You like a certain area so you tend to read over and over in that area. That’s ok. If you don’t read much, that’s a good place to get started. You start with what you’re interested in. But you need to get occasionally outside of your pet subjects. You need to read widely. Variety is the spice of life. I’ve read books on birds, astronomy, the heart (I got all kinds of illustrations about it), a medical book on the brain. Reading widely so that it makes you a broader person. I want to know just a little bit about every subject so that any person I meet I can talk to them about it I may not know a lot but I know just enough to ask the first question that will get them going in the conversation so you can learn from them.

I would also encourage you to read people that you disagree with. If a book does not stretch you, what are you reading it for? It ought to stimulate your thinking. If it doesn’t then that books is not much help. Balance.


I’m talking here about active reading. Suggestions:

1. Mark up your books. Write notes in the margin. I always read with a pencil in my hand. I never read without a pencil. Even when I’m reading magazines – Time or Newsweek — I’ve got a pencil in my hand, circling to tear out for an article or illustration. A book only becomes your book when you mark it up. It’s not your book until it’s marked up. Write things you agree with. Write things you disagree with. You could put stars, exclamation marks, question marks.

2. Keep a notepad nearby. The most important thing about a book is not what it teaches you. The most important thing is the ideas that it stimulates in you. I’ll read something, then write a note to myself. I rarely sit down and read otherwise. A. W. Tozer said, “One of the tests of a really fine book is while you’re reading it, you put it down to start thinking.” That’s a test of a good book. It stimulates you so much that you write some things down. Almost everything that I teach others, I got that way. I was reading a book, I put it down, and I started thinking myself. It stimulates me to get going. With Evernote and Pocket (and similar apps) you can capture the materials you read for future reference.


To increase the speed of your reading, know what not to read. The best way to save time in reading is to be discriminating. James Bryce says “Life is too short to spend it reading inferior books.”

The world’s output of books is over 1000 per day. Over 1000 books a day are printed in the world. The U.S. Government alone publishes over 500,000 articles, papers and reports a year. As a result there are many, many books that are not worth spit! They’re junk. They have a nice title and they’re put out because the publisher needs to put out additional books but a lot of stuff is worthless junk. Let me give you eight or nine ways to recognize a jewel from junk. When you buy a book, here’s what you need to do to know if it’s a good book or not.

Know who the author is. This is the single primary way to buy a book. Know good authors. There are certain authors that I will buy everything they write. There are certain other authors that I won’t buy anything they write. You have to learn from experience, who’s good and who’s not good.

Read the cover and the jacket. That seems obvious. When you read the cover and the jacket, pay attention to the author’s credentials. It really does matter. There are many books that have great titles and it might be cute sounding, but when you sit down and read you think, This is just a person who stays at home and decided to write a book.. They don’t really have any experience in writing a book. Also realize a lot of stuff on the cover of the jacket is just hype. It’s sales copy.

Look at the table of contents. Read the table of contents before you buy a book. Chapter titles. Pay attention to the foreword. Sometimes I dip into it for a while to decide is it heavy, is it light, whatever.

Look at the bibliography and the footnotes. Before I buy a book, I always, always … I never buy a book when I’m in a bookstore without looking at the back and seeing who they have referenced. You can tell a lot about a book just by finding out who they quote. When I see they’re quoting people I don’t even care about, then it tells me it’s going to go a direction that’s not going to help me out a lot. If they’re quoting people I have a lot of respect for I think this might be a good book even though I’ve never heard of the author. He’s quoting people I know who are credible.

Beware of books that claim too much. Pass over them – like, Sixty Days to Success, Two Weeks to Revolutionize Your Life. That kind of thing, skip.

Beware of books by celebrities or about celebrities. I rarely read a book about a celebrity. But a lot of celebrity books are written to play off names. They’re fluff and a ghostwriter usually writes them anyway.

Read book reviews.. Every once in a while a magazine will put out an article “The Books that Have Influenced My Life the Most.” They’ll ask ten or fifteen leaders. I’ve collected those articles because I always want to know what books have influenced other people


“If a book is worth reading, it’s worth buying,” John Ruskin said. When you build your own library you’re doing two things.

Books are tools. Every profession has its tools. You can’t be a doctor without a stethoscope. How can you be a carpenter without a hammer and a saw? The tools of the leader are books. We’re leading and we’re in the communication business. Books, and now podcasts, are the tools of the leadership.

I’ve learned in doing home repairs that the job is a lot easier when you have the right tools.

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