President Harry Truman once said that “all leaders are readers”, and this phrase has been commonly used amongst Christian circles.
Writing assignments for a Youth, Communities and Theology degree, whilst leading a group of young people and a team of volunteers, means that I ‘read’ a lot of books. The reason I write ‘read’ in inverted commas is because generally, I flick through the books to find the quote I need. I use Google Books to access free previews, and I search for a key word. I skim through the chapters to find what I need, and then I put the book back.
Three years ago, a youth work mentor of mine recommended ‘Seven Checkpoints for Student Leaders’, and I devoured it. My mentor showed me his planning spreadsheet; outlining dates, series, session topics, and which of the 7 checkpoints it covers. I learnt from this, and now every year I do the same.
I mainly read (no inverted commas) fiction books, and have completed 19 this year... mainly thanks to a long flight to Africa, followed by a pandemic! ‘The Break’ by Marian Keyes, ‘Conversations with Friends’ by Sally Rooney, and ‘The One’ by John Marrs were amongst my favourites of the year; I wish I could read them for the first time again. I read ‘Pretending’ by Holly Bourne in April, often siting at my balcony in the Spring Sun, and it was the first book ever to make me cry. I don’t think that leaders are limited to non fiction, academic or biographical reading.
I agree that generally, leaders are readers, mainly because we learn so much through reading.
But I think that saying “all leaders are readers” implies that those who don’t read or struggle to read are somehow less of a leader. Whilst just focussing on ‘reading’ is limiting; leaders are so much more. Perhaps a more inclusive and realistic phrase is “leaders are learners”.
Of course 'leaders are learners' includes reading. Leaders can learn through reading; books, articles, journals and blogs about their area of leadership, as well as fiction to be able to learn rest and unwind, as well as learning by ‘experiencing’ a different world.
Leaders learn from Ted Talks, podcasts and vlogs. Leaders learn by listening, watching, and taking notice.
Leaders learn from meeting with those they lead, being mentored by those above them, and being cheered on by colleagues in their field. Leaders learn from community.
Leaders learn by doing, having a go, testing the waters, making mistakes, and trying again. Leaders learn from persevering with projects, as well as letting other things go.
Similarly, leaders learn through reflection, whether that be in appraisal forms or in therapy. Leaders learn through looking back and sorting through difficulties, whilst creating road maps for the future.
Leaders learn by resting. Whether that be through sports, watching Netflix, meeting friends, or sleeping, leaders learn rest, and from rest comes growth, new ideas, an understanding of self, and strength.
Not all leaders are readers, but all leaders are learners.
If you would like to learn through reading, here are some books I recommend:
If you would like to learn through watching or listening, here are some resources I recommend: