If you want to lead, you’ve got to read

Recently, I was in a meeting with a CEO who expressed concern that he no longer had time to read.  “I’ve read more books on leadership than most, and they all say the same thing.”  We entered into a healthy discussion about this topic, and I discovered that the reason he had “no time” to read, was that it simply wasn’t a priority.  It wasn’t a part of his daily or weekly schedule so other things naturally squeezed out any ‘spare’ time he might have had.

I also learned that he wasn’t up to speed on some of the excellent books that had been published in the last few years.  Many can be downloaded onto an iPad or Kindle and read on a plane, in bed late at night, or simply catching a few moments enjoying a coffee.  For my friend, it really was an issue of priority.

Of course, it’s impossible to remember everything you read, but nearly always you can remember insightful perspectives and broad themes that present a different way of looking at a problem or leadership challenge you might be facing.

One book that got me thinking recently was the book by Melvyn Bragg called, 12 Books That Changed the World.[i]  While I might have come up with a different selection, Bragg produces a list of ‘books’ that contain significant historical facts, ideas, stories, and discoveries that have helped to shape our thinking in relation to economics, medicine, physics, science, law, love, sport, religion, and human rights.  These include:

  1. Principia Mathematicain 1687 by Isaac Newton
  2. Marries Lovein 1918 by Marie Stopes
  3. Magna Cartain June 1215 by Members of the English Ruling Classes
  4. The Rule Book of Association Footballin 1863 by A Group of Former English Public School Men
  5. On the Origin of Speciesin 1859 by Charles Darwin
  6. On the Abolition of the Slave Tradein 1789 by William Wilberforce in Parliament
  7. A Vindication of the Rights of Womanin 1792 by Mary Wollesoncraft
  8. Experimental Researches in Electricity (3 Volumes)in 1839, 1844 and 1855 by Michael Faraday
  9. Patent Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machinein 1769 by Richard Arkwright
  10. The King James Biblein 1611 by William Tyndale and Fifty-four Scholars Appointed by the King
  11. An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nationsin 1776 by Adam Smith
  12. The First Folioin 1623 by William Shakespeare

Having read Bragg’s book, I tried to assemble my own list of books that have been a significant part of my own leadership journey.  Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, and I can only imagine how difficult Bragg found it!  My list of 12 (in no order of priority) is:

  1. The Long Walk to Freedomby Nelson Mandela, 1994
  2. Virtuous Leadershipby Alexandré Havard, 2007
  3. How the Mighty Fall And Why Some Companies Never Give In by Jim Collins, 2009
  4. The Speed of Trustby Stephen M. R. Covey, 2006
  5. Spiritual Leadershipby Henry & Richard Blackaby, 2001
  6. Amazing Dad: Letters From William Wilberforce to His Childrenby Stephanie Byrd, 2010
  7. Servant-Leadership Across Culturesby Fons Trompennars & Ed Voerman, 2010
  8. The First 90 Daysby Michael Watkins, 2003
  9. How Will You Measure Your Lifeby Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth, and Karen Dillon, 2012
  10. The Bible – New International Version, 1996
  11. Powerful Personalitiesby Tim Kimmel, 1993
  12. A Short History of the 20thCentury by Geoffrey Blainey, 2005

What would you list?  If you want to let others know what you have found helpful or inspiring, simply go to the ‘Leave a Reply‘ section below this post.

 What’s the bottom-line?

“If you want to lead, you’ve got to read!”  Below are some questions to get you moving in the right direction:

  • What fields or areas of specialization do you find interesting, refreshing, and motivating?
  • Are there any gaps in your experience or professional development that could be addressed by finding a good resource?
  • If reading could deliver you a 10-20 percent improvement in your performance, what changes would you make to your schedule that would make this a priority?

[i] Melvyn Bragg, 12 Books That Changed the World (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012).


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