Leaders are Readers

This updated article was originally posted on Transforming Leader January, 2011. Being both a popular and a particularly long post – we decided to split it into two parts and re-post. Enjoy!


There was a time when I absolutely dreaded reading anything besides fiction (including the Bible, I am embarrassed to say.) I would be assigned to read some book on leadership by my boss. It would sit on my desk at work or my nightstand at home unread for weeks at a time. Every once in a while I would open it up and give it a token effort, perhaps getting through the first 2 or 3 chapters. Then my boss would kindly but firmly give me some extra incentive, like remind me that quarterly reviews were coming up soon. Ugh. So I would finally plot the appropriate hours and plow through.

As is often the case, the book usually ended up being a great help to my life and ministry; but it was a bear to get through! Perhaps you relate. Maybe it’s not a motivation issue so much as a life management issue. When are you supposed to find time to read in the midst of everything else going on in your life?

You’ve probably heard people quote Harry Truman, “Not every reader is a leader, but every leader is a reader.” I would qualify that statement by adding, “every growing leader is a reader.” I am so glad to say that I’ve finally figured out ways to incorporate reading into my life and ministry. I’d like to share some pointers with you; perhaps one or more of these ideas will help you as well. You may be interested to know that I don’t always set time aside specifically  to read each day or week, yet I get a lot of reading done each month.


Learn how to skim.
This is a skill I have developed over the years that has served me very well. For some books, blogs, or articles, I will simply skim over them. I have successfully “skimmed” 300-400 page books in just a couple of hours and sometimes less than that. I can still tell you today what I learned from some of those books. Sometimes I will skim a book first, and then read it word for word later. Skimming is a lot easier than you think (as opposed to speed reading, which is an acquired skill.) Here are two articles I would recommend that will give you the basics:


Determine when to read and when to skim.
I evaluate every book I read to determine if it’s a “really read this book” or a “skim and get the meat book”. Sometimes I will decide to skim a book and realize within the first chapter or two that this is a “really read this book.” At other times I will “try” giving a book a solid word for word and find I am just not interested or motivated, so I switch to the skim method. Here are a few of the criteria I use to make this determination:

  • A leader I highly admire/respect requests or recommends the book: READ.
    (My pastor once suggested I read the book, Next Generation Leader, by Andy Stanley. I read it and now highly recommend it myself.)
  • The content is very engaging and interesting to me: READ.
    (I started to skim the book, Crucial Confrontations and found it so engaging that I ended up reading through it word for word.)
  • The content is important to me (though not necessarily engaging)READ.
    (I found the book Getting Things Done sort of hard to read, but I knew the information was important and would help me, so I read it all the way through.)
  • I want the information, but don’t have time for a full blown read: SKIM.
    (Sometimes if I’m preaching or teaching in a few days I may skim to get some extra info on a topic. If I found the book really engaging, I’ll set it aside to read through more in-depth later.)
  • The author hasn’t impressed me in the past, but I know he/she has something good to say: SKIM.
    (For whatever reason, I’ve never been able to get into Max Lucado’s books, though he’s a best selling author, so I’ll often skim his books for the good stuff instead.
  • I have already read the material before, but want to remember what it was about or get some quotes/illustrations: SKIM.
    (I recently skimmed the book, Thinking for a Change, by John Maxwell which I read last year in order to prepare for a lesson I was about to teach.)
  • The topic is something I am already very knowledgeable in or the material is stuff I already know: SKIM.
    (I read a blog a while back that was talking about a key principle I’ve already learned and implement from the book Eat That Frog, I skimmed through that article.)
  • The topic is not something I need to be well-versed in or I already know the gist of the book: SKIM.
    (I have the book Drive, by Daniel Pink on my reading list. I’ve already watched him present the content from this book, so I’ll likely just skim it.)
  • The book has been sitting on my bookshelf forever and I’m dreading reading it: SKIM.
    (I purchased the book, Brain Rules more than two years ago. If I actually get to it, I’ll likely skim it. If I don’t read this book within the next year I’ll likely just give it a 15 minute leaf through and either sell, give away, or throw away.)

Notice that I have more criteria for skimming than reading. You’ll also realize that not only do I skim quite a few books, but I also read more than just books every week. See below.

Strategically mark up books when you can.
I have used many methods for tracking information in books, or marking them up for future use. I’m still not sure which methods are the best. I have taken notes from books and created my own “cliff notes” on some books. For others I’ve highlighted/underlined and placed a number next to sections with notes on the back inside cover telling me what that particular section/highlight was about for future reference. I am a big believer in underlining key sentences, highlighting headings or sections I want to stand out, and writing in the margins several words that summarize the selected text for easy retrieval. The point is, find a method for marking up books so that you can quickly get the meat out of it when you need to.

How about you? What other ideas might you suggest on how we can stay sharp as readers and leaders?

Check out Part 2 of this article by clicking this link now!


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