On Becoming a Leader Who Reads

The other day as I was listening to Bill Hybels being interviewed on the Catalyst Podcast, he shared something that I’ve heard him say several times – that all leaders are readers. He’s not the only one to say that. I just googled it and got over 188,000,000 links to people saying that exact same thing. Of course, I haven’t heard most of them say it, but I have heard other people say it too. Plus I figure if I google it, that makes it true.

I was trying to remember when this clicked for me. I used to hate reading. The first book I remember enjoying, or really even reading the entirety of without using Cliff Notes was during my senior year of High School, reading The Grapes of Wrath, but it was quite a while before I read another book after that. My sister used to walk down the street reading books. We would go on vacation, and while we would be in these incredible places, she would have her nose buried in a book. I wasn’t even close to that…that’s probably why she has her PhD and I’ve still got my fingers crossed that someone will give me an honorary doctorate someday.

Somewhere along the way, things changed for me. I never became the person walking down the street while reading a book, but I did actually start to enjoy it and began to read more and more. At one point before we had kids, I was reading close to 100 books a year, but kids change things, and I’d rather be hanging out with them anyways, so now I read around half that.

Honestly, here’s what I think happened…I heard enough people who I respected say those exact same words – that all leaders are readers. And while I didn’t have much interest in being a reader, I did care a lot about being a leader, so I figured, maybe if I start acting like one and doing the things that they do, I’ll eventually become a leader. So, I began forcing myself to read. I read books about leadership, ministry, theology…just about anything that anyone would recommend to me. The more and more I began to read, the more and more I found myself liking it. It’s kind of the same way Allison got me to like Grey’s Anatomy, but that’s a different story.

There is no magic formula or secret trick to get yourself to read more. I actually sat down with every intention of writing a list of things to do in order to read more books this year, but somehow this came out instead. The trick to reading more is to just simply read. You don’t like reading? Read more, and eventually, like the vegetables that you learned to like as you ate more and more of them, you’ll find yourself strangely starting to enjoy it. And don’t just read anything – read things that will push you and stretch you. Try the broccoli, because it’s good for you.

What will happen is that as you find yourself thinking more, as you have pre-conceived notions challenged, and as your mind is literally expanded, you’ll want to make more space and time for reading. You won’t have to force it to happen, you’ll want to make it happen.

Maybe that’s a part of the reason that all leaders are readers. Not necessarily because they’re the people who are born with a natural love of reading, and not just because of the insights they gain in their reading, but because they’re the kinds of people who would be willing to discipline themselves to read when they didn’t want to and when they didn’t love it and when they would rather zone out watching celebrities try to learn to dance. Maybe they’re leaders not just because of what they’ve read, but because they force themselves to read.

And by the way, not all readers are leaders, but that’s a whole other thing…

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