By Michael Angier
A long while ago, I heard someone say that “leaders are readers.” It made a big impression on me and I never forgot it. I don’t know who coined the phrase, but I must have reiterated it to my kids hundreds of times. They would usually groan and roll their eyes. I doubted that they really got it.
But a few years ago, my son, in the Marine Corp, shared with me the long list of books he was planning to read on his upcoming deployment to the Far East and Africa. He told me he was on a “life-long quest for knowledge.” He said, “Dad, I remember what you used to say, ‘leaders are readers’.” I just stood there beaming. They really had heard me after all. Thankfully, all of my children are avid readers. I hope that my own example of reading constantly and my lessons on how “leaders are readers” made a difference.
Of course, it doesn’t follow that all readers are leaders, but I think we can safely say with little exception, all leaders are readers. If that’s true, then why don’t more people read?
I’ve learned that only ten percent of the people who begin reading a non-fiction book ever get beyond the first chapter. It’s been shown that people’s earnings are in direct proportion to their vocabularies. That is, those who have larger vocabularies have greater responsibility and earn the most money—with very few exceptions. I know for sure that most people want to earn more money, so why is it that they don’t study more?
In 1987, I was selling advertising for a business magazine I published and the upcoming issue focused on education (mostly adult education). I called on a local businessman and told him about the issue’s focus, hoping to interest him in its wide appeal and convince him it was a good investment of his advertising dollars. He told me that he had already graduated from school, his education was over and that he had no interest in education whatsoever. I was dumbfounded. I think I could have comprehended someone thinking that—but to actually admit it? A better salesman might have tried a different tack, but I was so flabbergasted I just folded up my things and left, shaking my head. Unfortunately, that attitude is far more common than I realized.
I read recently that less than four percent of the American people own a library card. Can you imagine? We have the best free libraries in the world—thanks to Ben Franklin, who started them and the many others who have contributed money to them. Walk into any library and you will see. They are vastly underutilized.
Abraham Lincoln used to walk miles to borrow and return books. He read them by candlelight after working long, hard days. Do you think his reverence and devotion to books made a difference in his ability as a leader of our troubled nation? I do.
The good news is that people are reading more than they used to. Just look at the book stores and the vast number of books that are displayed on their shelves. Somebody’s buying them! I’m encouraged by this. However, it’s not enough.
I cannot go into a bookstore without buying a book. My personal library is my most valued material possession and I take pride in adding to it regularly. I have over 500 non-fiction books. I’ve even read most of them. This should be true for any serious student of success.
If you are committed to be all that you are capable of being, I implore you to become a voracious reader. A book a month will keep you even. A book a year and you’re falling behind. It takes effort, but it’s worth it. If you like to read—great—have at it. If you don’t like reading—great—have at it. It’s just something that you have to do.
If you develop the habit of reading something every day, you will start to enjoy it. You’ll look forward to it, your thinking will sharpen, your vocabulary will increase, and you will become a more interesting person.
Remember, leaders are readers.
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