What Leaders Should Read

A few years ago, I went on a trip to Washington, D.C. with a community legislative group. We were there to lobby government leaders for an empowerment zone designation for our community. One evening while in Georgetown, I spent time chatting with one member of our group. When it came to our community, he was always at the forefront: helping, advocating, coordinating, leading. I respected his insights. His thinking was constantly strides ahead of everyone else. As we sat at an outside café, he asked about my studies (at the time I was completing my master’s) and what I was reading outside of course books. I was probably reading the latest management or leadership paperback, I don’t recall now. But what I remember after all these years was his response.      

 “If you want to learn about being a leader,” he said, “stop reading business books.” Surprised by his reply I asked why. He argued that one important strategy leaders should change is what they read. In many ways, over the long-term, what leaders read influences their interpretation of various issues. It helps define their world view. People who aim at developing a wider and truthful leadership perspective must – and should – always expand their thinking. Leaders must begin to read history, biographies, fiction, and the classics.  

Because of that conversation many years ago, I’ve made an effort to supplement my business-related readings to include biographies like those of Washington, Lincoln, Adams, Jefferson, Chavez, and King. I’ve gained a better appreciation of the classics by re-reading books from my high school years by Hemingway, Emerson, and Twain. I’ve also immersed myself in books about art, culture, and society. In short, I’ve always balanced my interest in business with books that remind me about what impacts organizations the most – life.