Don't change who you are. Be more of who you are - Sally Hogshead
Reading to Develop the Leader – by James Lovaas
Reading to Develop the Leader – by James Lovaas

Reading to Develop the Leader – by James Lovaas

Enduring growth starts with you – Jes DeShields

Each morning I like to start my day outside enjoying the beauty and the exhilaration of a morning workout. For some, this is a solitary time. Others enjoy working out within a community and are energized by the fellowship. For me, there is nothing better than starting my day running with a respected leader, artist or entrepreneur. I like to think of myself as a competitive athlete, but in these longer runs I truly relish the opportunity to engage with someone I respect on any topic other than running. Several years ago, I was running a half marathon in Louisville, KY. On this occasion, a well-known singer was sharing about spending years trying to earn the love of his parents and spouse, and feeling like it was never going to happen. This acceptance was something he would have to grant to himself and then consider changing his associations. I felt a measure of empowerment from learning that other successful individuals had been where I was and had passed through it to experience a greater life.  


We all want to see our teams develop and grow. We all want to see our companies and teams succeed. The question is, how? That varies from team to team and individual to individual. So often, it is the leaders that are the differentiation. These men and women have the vision and the skills required to inspire their teams to reach and exceed their goals. What we need to remember, however, is that these leaders are not just born…they are developed…and that development continues throughout their lives. It does not end with a degree or a job or a title. It needs to continue for a lifetime.

Most of us would never seek fitness coaching from an individual that is out of shape. We wouldn’t seek life coaching from someone that was outwardly depressed. We look to those that are in a place we want to be…to those that have gone where we want to go. Crescent Leadership has stressed from day one that leaders must put their development first. This development continues across their lives and careers. While many companies offer a variety of continuing education opportunities, it is the intent of the leader to continue her development that makes the difference. In the article, Good Leaders are Good Learners, the authors Keating, Hesling, and Ashford contend that beyond taking advantage of learning opportunities, “leaders who are in learning mode develop stronger leadership skills than their peers” (2017).

Enduring growth is a result of enduring learning…learning that is focused and intentional. Keating and her co-authors identified key attributes of leaders that are learners. First, they are those that can identify what they need to learn. Consider that many that are in roles of leadership seek first, and foremost, to indicate that they have all the knowledge and training that is needed. Leaders that are learners can identify their current gaps and the skills required to move forward in the current and future climate. They will seek the educational opportunities available, experiment with a variety of strategies, and they will critically review their progress and the implementation of their proposed strategies. 

Reading – The Overlooked Treasure

Most of us, in leadership, have limited resources for training and development. There is never as much money, or time, available as there are training seminars, conferences, online courses, and college programs. Accordingly, we all have to make choices and pass on many opportunities. Of course, this was exacerbated by the pandemic of 2020. For 12-18 months, almost all in-person opportunities vanished. We were overcome by the challenges of changing priorities and unforeseen obstacles. Many fought just to stay employed while others had to consider new career options entirely.

One opportunity that remained available for all of us was the chance to read. Years ago, President Harry Truman made the following statement: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.“ In previous eras, reading was limited to the wealthy… the privileged… the aristocracy…those that had the time and resources. In our modern society, we all have access to thousands of books, articles, and blogs. Yet, the evidence indicates that Americans are reading less and less. 

I remember when I was a child, every May we received the annual summer reading challenge. We were given a colorful flyer that outlined the rewards that could be earned by reading books over the summer. The first day of summer, I dragged my mom to our local library and just piled up on more books than I would ever read…but I was determined to get that reading challenge medal when we came back to school in the fall.

The Pew Research Center has written that the average American, in 2015, read…a book. That number increases exponentially if we include avid readers – jumping to 12 books… a year. Countries such as India, Thailand and China read significantly more. College graduates read more. Women read more. CEO’s? As a whole, they read significantly more with some indications that many read four to five books per month. Steve Siebold interviewed 1200 of the world’s wealthiest individuals over thirty years and found that they all read to self-educate (Elkins, 2015).

When we read, we seek concepts, ideas, renewal, and growth. We avail ourselves of the multitude of thinkers and leaders across cultures and nations. We need not rely on our own limited knowledge or believe that additional courses, degrees, and seminars are the only path to career and personal development. Author and speaker Jeremy Kinglsey has written that there are [at least] four reasons that good leaders are readers. When we read, we are reminded of important concepts we’ve already learned and it allows us to use that knowledge again. We also come face to face with new thoughts that might otherwise be outside our purview. Reading can provide a distinct advantage in a competitive world filled with people who believe they are too busy to read. The writings of others can provide a new context that encourages better decision making. These benefits, and more, are available to those that read…and read liberally.

Beyond Bookstores and Physical Libraries

In a previous time, our access to reading materials was dependent on our time, resources, and location. If we wanted to borrow books and magazines, we relied on the local library and their inventory. Of course, those options and availability were limited. If we had access, and resources, we could visit a local bookstore. In the past, every mall had a Walden Books or B Dalton Bookseller (eventually these became Borders and Barnes & Noble). 

Enter the era of Amazon, and a multitude of options. Amazon provides nearly immediate access to physical and digital options. Accordingly, every other bookseller now also offers these options. Just today, my colleague needed to get 23 books for a client engagement scheduled for next week. She ordered them on Amazon this morning, and they are enroute to her house to be delivered by 10 pm tonight! (This is not an advertisement for Amazon.) We are no longer limited by our local retailer and their inventory. We are also no longer limited to printed materials. Hundreds of thousands of titles are now available as electronic books viewable on computers, phones, and tablet devices. Even our local library has expanded their offerings to include digital options available on demand.

Of course, now that we use a variety of electronic devices, we also have access to audiobooks that can be downloaded instantaneously. Many of these audiobooks are accessible for free via applications connected to local libraries. Titles can also be purchased from services such as Kobo and Audible. Additionally, there are services like Scribd that offer nearly unlimited listening options for a small monthly fee.

Earlier, I shared a story from one of my runs. The reality is that I spend every morning with the likes of Tim Grover, Brené Brown, and Paul Stanley. These people, and many others, make their books available to all of us in a variety of formats. As I run, Brené shares about the courage it takes to be vulnerable and quotes Teddy Roosevelt when he said: “The credit belongs to the man who…at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” John Moe describes overcoming depression and Jamie Kern Lima describes faith, family, and building a billion dollar business. My runs in the morning are so important to me because I get to spend time with people that I may never meet in person but who make their lives available to all of us…at least in a limited sense.

So, what should we be reading? The most obvious answer is to read the literature in your field or area of interest. We can continue to advance our own education and professional development through the research and writing available across the platforms described earlier. With all of these options available, and the ability of more authors to publish more rapidly than ever, we have a virtually endless supply of materials.  

Yet, we need not limit our reading to our field. We all have interests beyond our career. These interests can do more than entertain us. These interests can round out our thinking providing inspiration to seek out new and innovative solutions. So often, we find ourselves limited to what we’ve done in the past. We repeat what we’ve done, attaining results we’ve already had. Yet, as we expand our thinking through the writings of those outside our field, we may well find new answers or evidence to support new pursuits.

One category of reading that is often overlooked…that is undervalued…or denied as not valuable for serious professionals…is fictional reading. We all need rest. We all need to be inspired or rejuvenated. Fictional writings may well provide for these needs. There is, however, more value to reading fiction. Mark Nevins wrote an article titled, Why Leaders Should Read Fiction. He encourages his readers to consider that they can become better leaders by engaging their “creative, introspective, and empathetic side.” Fictional writing can expand our empathetic capacity, improve our decision-making skills, and even improve our writing.

I save fictional audio books for my time in the car. After a hard workout, before jumping into the day, I can step out of my world and experience the creative story telling of authors such as John Grisham, Brad Thor, and Frank Peretti. Imagine that after a hard day at work, when you have just been drained, you can stop thinking about what you might have done today or what you have to do tomorrow (if only for a short time). I give myself a break while also feeding my brain’s need for experiences. There has been research that indicates that our brains react to fiction in a similar manner as if we were actually going through the experience (Farr, 2017). Additionally, because our brains are constantly trying to fill in the gaps, we can actually exercise our problem solving skills when reading fiction. So, when I put on that new Alex Cross novel, I’m doing it for my development.

We can continue to grow and evolve across our entire career. We can access some of the greatest minds of our time…and of all time. We can experience inspiration and adventure…all through the writings of others. We can continue to develop as leaders by reading more.

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” – Mark Twain

First published on

Elkins, K. (2015). A self-made millionaire who studied 1,200 wealthy people found they all have one — free — pastime in common.

Farr, T. (2017). The Real World Benefits of Reading Fiction.

Keating, L., Heslin P., & Ashford, S. (2017). Good Leaders Are Good Learners.

Kingsley, J. (n.d.). 4 Re

asons Good Leaders are Readers.

Nevins, M. (n.d.). Why Leaders Should Read Fiction

Whitington, T. (2016). How Many Books Does the Average Person Read? Thomas Whittington.

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