Leaders read books.
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In a world of video, reading is still fundamental

I’m watching more, and more video. Video is engaging. It has personality. It fosters an easy sense of connection with people. Its a great way to learn AND be entertained.

Podcasts are also great (hey, I’ve got one, how can I diss ’em?). I learn a lot from podcasts; and they’re so convenient. I can learn while I drive or workout!

Videos and podcasts have some downsides though. I don’t always know what is going to be in them before I listen. Though I generally trust the creator behind them, I have found that the information delivered in these media is not always as relevant (or engaging) as I would like. Videos and podcasts are mostly recorded “live” which makes them fresh and authentic; but I think we can all agree that many of them aren’t as well thought out, or well researched as they could be.

Most video and podcast creators are making their content for an audience that might consume an episode in the next few minutes or days; so they are not intending to serve up the wisdom of the ages. They are also trying to cram an experience into a certain time frame; so the scope of the topic reflects that. In the end, the act of watching a video, or listening to a podcast, tends to be a passive experience. I’m watching or listening as a form of relaxation, or as background to another activity. Rarely am I “digging into” a video—taking notes, analyzing and picking apart what’s been said.

Leaders read books.

Books, on the other hand, are different. Writing a book takes time—sometimes years. The author knows that this work will represent them for a long time. The author will try to be definitive and exhaustive; they will carefully choose words to communicate exactly what they want to say. I can watch a video or listen to a podcast in the length of a commute; but a book is a commitment of days or weeks of effort. And I’m not passively listening. I have to be intentional, and find the time and space to sit with the book. I’m engaged. I’m studying. I’m thinking more critically. That engagement with the material makes more of an impact in my brain; both in how I remember it, and in what I do with that material.

So there is a case for reading as a component in our learning arsenal, even in the internet age. But it’s hard to find the time. Where do I start?

Like most things that help us to “fill our bucket”, we have to schedule it. If its not given a time and a place, it’s not going to happen. For me, its a discipline to walk away from the TV 30 minutes earlier and grab my kindle so I can read a little bit before bed. Some nights I’m too tired and I’m struggling to stay awake, so I quit early and go to sleep. Other nights I’m really into the book I’m reading and I can’t get enough!

Join a book group. If you are having trouble getting yourself to read consistently, get together with some peers and read a book together. The discussions may spur you on to read more, and will definitely open up new insights you might have otherwise missed. (interested in joining a book group, give me a ring!)

However you do it, I think it is a worthy endeavor. Whether you love the language of poetry, appreciate a good novel, or simply want to learn more about virtually anything; I’d like to suggest some material that will, I hope, make such an impact that you will want to up your reading game.

Top five books for business owners:

  1. The Power of Full Engagement
    Tired of trying to be more “productive”? Attempting different time management tools only to find you are still overwhelmed? Jim Loehr explains that time can’t be ”managed”; time moves on no matter what. What we can manage is our focus and energy. This book continues to provide breakthrough ideas for me.
  2. Crucial Conversations
    Kerry Patterson and his team provide a very practical roadmap for having high stakes conversations—the kind you have all the time with your team members, prospects and even your spouse and kids. I use the lessons I learned in this book everyday!
  3. The Predictors
    Thomas Bass writes like an investigative reporter as he covers the story of the team from Los Alamos Labs (that first applies chaos theory to financial markets). It’s a terrific story and focuses not on the science, but on the PEOPLE. He looks at what made that team work, and where that team broke down. Terrific lessons for every leader in a compelling story.
  4. The Martian
    While I’ve never been stranded alone on another planet with nothing but my wits to survive, it does sound a little like an allegory for small business ownership! Seriously, every business owner can relate to the feelings of loneliness and surviving on your wits that Andy Weir projects onto the main character. The boardroom scenes provide some interesting ethics lessons. Even if you have seen the movie, this book is a page turner.
  5. The War of Art
    When you undertake any creative act—whether it’s artistic, spiritual, or entrepreneurial— there are natural forces that line up to oppose your success. Steven Pressfield articulates these forces (some from outside of us, and others from within) with skill and honesty. And in the second half of the book, he tells us how to defeat them. This book is a classic and should be read by every entrepreneur.

We all have a good book that we have carried with us long after we quit reading. Here’s to many more of those books to shape our lives for years to come.

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