Richard Branson wakes up at 5 in the morning to read. Warren Buffett spends 5-6 hours a day reading. Bill Gates, famously, reads one book a week. Clearly, the most influential business leaders in the world share at least one thing aside from being billionaires: they all have a dedicated daily reading habit.
No one can deny the fact that reading regularly is an investment in yourself. It’s scientifically proven that reading improves your intelligence, creativity, and communication skills.
At its heart, though, what differentiates voracious readers from occasional ones is the same thing that sets the wildly successful apart from the mediocre: a relentless commitment to self-improvement and growth. For managers, especially, this is critical. If you’re helming a team or organisation in any shape or form, you’re doing yourself and those around you a disservice by failing to read regularly. Here’s why.
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The reason why it’s so hard to make a regular habit of reading is that it requires you to direct all your attentional resources in one place. If you hope to read efficiently, you need to focus on being able to understand and process what you learned, as well as to form personal responses to it.
Being distracted works against you when you want to be an effective reader, but that’s exactly what modern life does to most of us. We are mentally overstimulated every which way and distracted all the time.
From the endless pings of notifications to noisy open offices and round-the-clock news, there’s always something screaming for your attention. When you sit down and read, though, you’re training your mind to focus better, which is an essential skill for high performance and maximum productivity.
According to Mortimer Adler, author of the 1940 bestseller “How To Read A Book: The Classic Guide To Intelligent Reading,” to maximise the efficacy of your reading, you need to do three different readings:
While experienced readers will be able to do all three simultaneously on their first read, most people will need to read it 3 separate times for maximum effectiveness. In this sense, the more you read, the better you get at listening carefully, taking apart, and then critiquing others’ ideas. These are vital critical thinking skills for leaders in any field or industry.
Avid readers often don’t limit themselves solely to reading materials that agree with their personal opinions. They prize the value of diversity of thought and experience, and they understand how reading broadly contributes to this.
In a similar vein, a leader cannot afford to stay narrow-minded in her approaches to work and life. Great leaders know how important it is to value and welcome input from people. Reading books whose authors put forth arguments that depart from her views, then, is essential in staying open-minded while maintaining critical thinking.
Good things never come easy. To glean the full benefits of a regular reading habit, one needs to commit oneself to practicing it every day no matter what.
That necessitates becoming more intentional (even stingy) about how you spend your time. Most of us already have jam-packed schedules; to fit in reading time every day without exception requires a strong commitment to making time for it. Thus, you have no choice but to be more efficient about cutting out waste in your daily schedule.
Engaging excessively in “shallow” work like checking emails, for instance, often takes up too much of the average executive’s day.
Another consequence of staying open-minded in what you choose to read is its ability to cultivate empathy. This is particularly crucial since leadership, in its finest form, is arguably the art of cultivating others’ growth.
In this sense, leadership is akin to parenting; both involve being tasked with the responsibility of looking after and guiding the growth of their charges. None of this is possible without first being willing or able to put yourself into someone else’s shoes.
Essentially, the more you read, the more you begin to understand how and why people differ so markedly, including your employees. It’s the foundation of excellent managerial skills.
The mental and emotional demands of leadership aren’t an easy burden to bear. If the bosses are stressed, their employees will feel it too. That culminates in a maladaptive trickle-down effect that hurts everyone at the end of the day.
Fortunately, studies have shown that reading has substantially positive stress-relieving effects. According to the Harvard Business Review, it’s the best way for executives to de-stress; spending just 6 minutes of reading a day can decrease stress levels by almost 70%.