Real Leaders

7 Ways to Read More of What Can Help You Lead

When I ask friends if they’ve read anything good lately, I usually get a pained expression and a comment like, “Oh, man, I wish I had more time to read!”

Given the pressures of business and family, along with the urgent reading we must do during the course of a day, it’s difficult to find the time to read books that may make us better leaders and potentially even change our lives.

Yet it’s not as difficult as you might think to be a real reader. As the CEO of a company that caters to readers, I’ve had the opportunity to ask hundreds of busy people over the years what tips they have for actually getting those life-changing books into their lives and running on their fuel. Here are seven proven techniques particularly relevant to busy CEOs:

1. Be willing to give up on a book.

Practice the 50-page rule: if a book hasn’t grabbed you by page 50, give it the heave-ho. There are lots more books on the shelf, virtual and otherwise, beckoning. In my experience, the more seasoned the readers, the more likely they are to practice this rule, and thereby find more books suited to them.

2. Read with family members.

Right now my wife, Lori, and our two sons are reading Conscious Capitalism so that we can discuss it as a family. Reading with family members is like having a built-in book club, with a bonus: you get to spend more time with your family.

3. Read with colleagues.

Ask the colleagues you respect what they’re reading and why. Reading the same book at the same time as a colleague means you can compare notes as you go, gain more from your reading, and strengthen bonds of friendship. Try it with a forum member, or your whole forum as an exercise.

4. Read with your ears. In recent years audiobooks have become a powerhouse format, with many truly great narrators and thousands of captivating books that will keep you glued in your car after you’ve reached your destination. Don’t be snagged by the fading prejudice that listening is cheating and not real reading. Remember that all stories and learning used to be oral and that reading, especially silent reading to one’s self, is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Ironically, digital files on your smartphone have unleashed the power of oral storytelling to millions of learners. I find that audiobooks are particularly well suited to narratives like biographies and histories, which can be some of the best business books of all. Check out AudioFile Magazine for the latest releases, along with informed reviews. Visit Audible and iTunes to browse thousands of audiobooks you can download.

5. See your way into books. Today the power of video magnifies the benefits of reading. I loved Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Jump start your reading by watching her TED video, which 3.5 million introverts have already quietly done.

See or hear the brilliant Steven Pinker explain his masterpiece, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, as he presents his Long Now Foundation SALT talk in San Francisco. Before reading Sherry Turkle’s rewarding book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, watch her uplifting interview with Stephen Colbert. Thinking about reading Warren Buffett’s newest? Start with six minutes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

6. Build your Library of Candidates.

More than a list of what you might like to read, a Library of Candidates is a repository for the books themselves. Having the actual print book ensures that you’ll choose new books from an enriched assortment you’ve already vetted, and increases the likelihood you’ll love your next book. I devote physical bookcases to my Library of Candidates, and do the same with a virtual library of e-book downloads.

7. Build on your success. As in business, so with reading: success breeds success. Once you’re reading a book that you can’t put down, you’ll want to repeat that exhilaration. Don’t worry about not having read all the classics (no one has) or this or that “indispensable” book. Try, instead, to always be reading a book you love. Do that and you’ll be living your own well-read life, which is the only one worth living.

Are you ready to get more books in your life and more life from your books? Try at least one of these techniques in the next two weeks and see how you do. Then, share the results with us below.


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