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Leadership Thought #251 – All Leaders Should Aspire to Be Well Read and Informed

November 22, 2011

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I am a strong believer that a leader’s role, especially in fast-growing or large organizations, is to think.   In addition, to think effectively you need to be well read.  You need to have a broad understanding of many things including behavioral psychology and general business management issues.  It is also important to be well informed of the market realities including local, regional, national, and international trends that affect your business.   Moreover, as a leader, you should leverage the experience and knowledge of past leadership figures and become a student of leadership behavior.

Leadership requires diligent work and study.  Very few people can just show up and make it happen.  You may be able to rely on your gut intuition and work ethic for a period, but at some point, this will no longer be sufficient. The opportunities and challenges confronting the organization will be greater and more complex than your own personal experience (and capability to solve them).  The stakes will get higher and so will the risk.  The answers won’t always come easily, and sometimes, it will feel like you are out of your depth.

This is why I encourage my clients and colleagues to spend at least 1 hour a day getting smarter about their business and their role.  This can be a struggle because our society values action over everything else.   Thinking and reflecting are not always tangible activities. Reading about the leadership styles of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, or Winston Churchill can seem like a luxury in a terribly busy and hectic schedule.  Learning what Jack Welch did at General Electric or Sam Walton did with Wal-Mart or what Herb Kelleher accomplished with Southwest Airlines always gets pushed back to the end of the priority line.    Understanding the important work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung doesn’t even make the radar screen.  Industry journals and newspapers stack up in our office, unread, as other things distract us.

The options for learning and growth are limitless which can make it seem overwhelming.  If that happens, instead of avoiding the challenges altogether, take small steps.

  • Subscribe to an industry journal and read it
  • Review the front page of the Wall Street Journal every day
  • Buy a biography of a historical leadership figure that intrigues you and read it for 15-20 minutes before you go to bed each night or listen to it as a digital audiobook while you drive around in your car or workout
  • As you get more comfortable with this learning dynamic, add a subscription to the Harvard Business Review and leaf through it on the weekends with your morning coffee/tea
  • Visit the library (yes, they still do exist) and take out a book or DVD explaining the basics of human behavior and psychology
  • Go online and watch Ted Talks (www.ted.com) that intrigue you (typical time commitment is less than 20 minutes)
  • Order DVDs/CDs of subjects that interest you from the Great Courses catalog

All this sounds like a lot of work, but the time spent is marginal when considered in the wide scheme of things. The potential benefits of being actively informed are huge for your business and you. Understanding the world around you and the people who inhabit it are the primary reasons all leaders should aspire to be well-read and informed.