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Reading is fundamental to everything we do
as professionals.  We are all required to
read including contracts, proposals, technical manuals, etc. for our jobs.  However, there is other reading that is
important to your wellbeing – that is reading for pleasure or to fulfill your curiosity.  Sir Richard Steele’s, an Irish writer,
playwright, and politician, statement sums up the value of reading for the
mind.  We all know the benefits of
exercising the body, but what do we do for our minds?  Reading provides the exercise our minds need
to grow and continue to develop. 
Researchers have found reading a novel enhances
connectivity in the brain and improves brain functioni. 
Each of us has our individual preferences for what we read, fiction or
nonfiction.  What you read is not
important as long as you find it interesting and grow from the experience. 

Surveys
show 42% of college students will never read another book after graduationii.  This is a disturbing statistic.  The value of the college experience is not
just to prepare oneself for a career, but to prepare for life.  In school your sphere of interest expands.  You are exposed to additional reading which you
had not been previously aware of or interested in.  Talking to students from across the country, which
I have been doing for more than twenty years, I have concluded they are
inherently curious with varied interests. 
It surprises me people “put away the books” after they graduate.  It is if they feel they have gained all they
can and don’t need to refresh and enhance their knowledge or their look on
life.  (XX SOMETHING ON MILENNIALS HERE)

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Reading
Fiction Expands our Horizons

Novels
are an escape from the day-to-day routine which we all face.  It is through engrossing ourselves in a novel
we move into an alternative space of time and place.  It is there where we become part of the
fantasy.  We all have different tastes in
the type of fiction we enjoy reading. 
Some of us read science fiction, others romance, and others
suspense.  Each genre generates a feeling
of fantasy and adventure in the reader.  The
type of books you read is not important. 
The more you are into the book, the more you are into the fantasy.  This is healthy as we experience other ideas
and thoughts which have a place in life. 
Have you ever read a book where you have been so attached to the players
it has affected your opinion or outlook on life’s adventure?  Reading novels or other fiction materials
allows us to step out and transform ourselves into another person’s shoes which
flexes our imagination.  Reading fiction
flexes the imagination similar to visualization of physical activity.  When we were young we read about the Three
Musketeers or Pippi Longstocking and have been transformed into their world of
adventure where we learned about new and exciting places.  We struggled with the Count of Monte Christo
and went on an odyssey with Homer.  We
have brought these experiences into our personal and professional life through
referring to individuals as “swashbuckling” or a “siren”.  Regardless of what you have read, I would
argue you have gained additional life experience from the book or have used to
the story to relate to your life. 

Nonfiction
Provides Additional Insights and Experiences

Nonfiction
reading is taken in a whole new light. 
We are reading about events and people which interest us.  We read nonfiction, not so much as an escape,
but as a means of explaining the world around us.  In addition, we are reading technical
information which will aide in the solving of problems.  Engineers and scientists read about new
discoveries, techniques, or the science around what is done.  Business people read about sales, marketing,
and other aspects important to generating business.  I would submit we read nonfiction to round
out and enhance our experience – self enhancement. 

This
is a different type of experience than what is gained from fiction
reading.  With fiction we escape to new
and enchanting lands.  With nonfiction we
do not escape but reflect.  Nonfiction can
be described as inspirational to a certain degree, not from a religious context
but a spiritual context.  It is our
spirit which is being enhanced by the experiences of others.  Astronaut Scott Kelly, in his book Endurance, talks about how Thomas
Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff was the
inspiration for his becoming a successful fighter pilot for the Navy and an
astronaut (XX CITATION).  In his
recounting of his experiences he continually referred to this book as life
changing.  One could argue this book had
an influence on his spirit.  We gain from
the knowledge in books.  I am sure each
of us have a book which influenced our growth as individuals both emotionally
and spiritually.

Self-help
books, enhance our life experience and provide growth as leaders in our
personal lives and careers.  We learn how
leaders and successful people think and relate this to our own
experiences.  The goal is to enhance our
being.  While we are quick to say
“self-improvement” in our approach to these books, I would argue the proper
term is “self-enhancement”.  Self-help
books have a unique means of helping us along life’s journey.  Books on how to be “a better person” are all
over.  The self-help industry was a $9.9
Billion industry in 2016.  Self-help
books alone are an $800 Million industry and growing at 6% per yeariii.  This is a changing industry, with new apps
and online approaches to teaching developed regularly. 

However,
books continue to be a mainstay in the industry.  These books provide us with new ideas and
approaches to life’s circumstances. 
While in some cases the information may be viewed as a “no-brainer’ the
bottom line is we gain something from what we read.  Often when we read these books we say to ourselves
“I knew that” or “I do that already”. 
However, these books tend to put those feelings in context and reinforce
the concepts.  I was reading a book
recently which discussed the value of developing lists, specifically a to-do
list.  This seems like a simple
day-to-day activity which many of us do this regularly.  By reading about the overall value gained
from preparing this list, I was reminded there is a feeling of accomplishment
which comes from checking things off.  As
a result, I do more lists.  It helps when
it seems I am deluged with information and tasks.  Each of us has a different reason for reading
self-help books.  Like anything else we
do in life, we get out of something what we put into it. 

The
Quick Fix

Why don’t we read?  It is certainly not because we do not want to
expand our minds.  We live in busy
times.  It seems that computers, while
offering the promise of making our lives simpler have merely made it easier to
accomplish more.  While this is not
necessarily a bad thing, it does make us more frantic at times.  Historically for engineers, a change in the
design meant recalculating complex equations and hours at the drafting
table.  With the use of modern computers,
we can perform the complex calculation by changing a variable and re-running
the program.  We can change the design with
a few moments on the computer where previously it took much longer by hand
drafting.  Computers have allowed
engineers and other professionals to develop more complex calculations in less
time.  This has led to us being more
challenged in our approach to time management. 

Reading is not an easy fix for us.  It is difficult to pick up a book which
forces us to think after a long day at the office when we could very easily
turn on the TV and engross ourselves in the latest reality show.  We have put aside what we gain the most from
in lieu of short sighted and short-term satisfaction – the quick fix.  We have allowed ourselves to be hijacked by
the easy route rather than striving to work to grow and succeed.  Our social media “commitments” coupled with
our busy life styles has made reading a “second class citizen”.  Taking time to read takes work.  It does not come easily with life’s
distractions, including, the pleasant distractions of family life.  In addition, after a long day at work reading
work material and writing, we are tired and want to give our minds a rest.  In many cases we feel the best way to wind
down is through some mindless show on TV. 
We are all guilty of this.  On
more than one occasion I have turned on reruns of M*A*S*H instead of picking up
a book and exercising my mind.  Let’s
face it, after a long day we want to just “veg out” and do nothing.  In some instances, this can be healthy.  However, I would argue we sometimes are
relaxed by stimuli to the mind through reading versus the TV.  The truth is that we do have the time to
read, but must develop the habit.

Abraham Lincoln, who has about a year of
formal education was a voracious reader. 
It is said Theodore Roosevelt read more than 20,000 books.  Thomas Jefferson had an extensive library.  The list goes on and on – great leaders
read.   I have discussed in this chapter
the value of reading and what it brings to us as professionals.  This is compounded with leaders.  Great leaders have great habits and reading
is one of them. 

It has been recommended by some to read at
least fifteen minutes each day.  If you
read for fifteen minutes each day that equates to 5,475 minutes a year.  If you figure the average reading rate for
adults is 200 words per minute, then that is approximately 1.1 million words
per year.  If you figure books range from
50,000 to 70,000 words, then you have read 16 -22 books in that year.  This is an interesting figure.  You need to vastly expand your experiences
through reading at a much higher rate than that.  Statistics have shown CEOs typically read
four to five books per month.  Using the
same statistics from earlier, you would be reading thirty to forty-five minutes
a day.  A daunting number for our busy
lives but necessary for success as a leader. 
For me, this is two less reruns of M*A*SH a day.  When you think of it in this manner, the task
becomes much simpler.  By adjusting our
priorities, we can expand our thinking. 

Reading increases our analytical tools such
as judgement and problem solving. 
Through our reading we gain wider varieties of experiences which can
guide us through problem solving.  Most
often, our experiences are not unique. 
There is usually an aspect of what we are doing which has been
successfully tackled at one time or another by a great leader.  Abraham Lincoln had to gain consensus among
his leadership team to accomplish what he did. 
This consensus building was his reason for success.  A modern-day leader can look to this example,
build on it, and use it to hone his or her consensus building skills.  Abraham Lincoln is not unique in this
arena.  A lot can be learned from Dwight
Eisenhower’s leadership capabilities as he organized the Allied forces in World
War II.  Through reading, we experience
these successes and can apply them in our day to day leadership activities.  I can go on and on citing examples of great
leadership examples.  It is through our
reading experiences we are placed into the shoes of these great leaders.

Action Plan

In this chapter, I have discussed the
advantages of reading for your professional success and personal growth.  However, as a leader, the advantages are
amplified.  As a leader you are depended
on to be curious and to guide your team to success.  As a reader, you gain the tools for which to
do so.  These tools are acquired by
retracing the steps other leaders have taken. 
Another advantage is to gain additional insight into people.  Through fiction, we can gain additional
perspectives which guide our decision making. 
We open new avenues of information available to us to guide our organization.  Without this additional information, we are
destined to be one-dimensional and uninspired. 

It takes a source of constant inspiration to
be a leader.  This is gained through
reading a variety of books and material. 
Self-help books inspire us to gain additional attributes as a leader to
better serve our teams.  Biographies help
us to understand the mindset of others and how they became successful.  Professional journals and publications
provide us with the information it takes to remain current.  In addition, there are numerous threads,
blogs, and other information out there which allow us to remain relevant.  Without this input, we become irrelevant and wither
away.

What should we do to enhance our reading
experience while still recharging?  Much
like the rituals we have before we go to bed each night; setting out the
clothes for the following day, brushing our teeth, or walking the dog, reading
is a ritual we can establish which provides as much value as these other tasks.  Often, I have several books going at
once.  These may be fiction, nonfiction,
and self-help.  With this I can read what
my mind is attuned to at any specific time. 
This enhances my ability to relax. 
As I talked with leaders in the research for this book, I found a large
number of them have the same habit.  The
following suggestions can be followed as you develop your reading habit:

·       Spend a minimum of fifteen minutes each day
reading, successful CEOs spend 30-45.

·       Read what interests you

·       Mix up your reading.

·       Explore new genres to expand your horizon.

·       Do not be afraid to take a leap into the
unknown.  You may be surprised at what
you find.

·       Think of possibly joining or starting a book
club.  It is more fun when you take
others along on your journey.

·       Some books are better if you read a bit then
go back to it.  Self-help books, for
example, are sometimes easier to digest by chapter.

·       If a book is made into a movie, try to read
the book before seeing the movie.  You
gain additional perspective into the characters.

As you embark on your reading journey, take
time to reflect a bit.  When you find an
interesting book, talk to friends and co-workers about it.  This reinforces the quality of the book to
you and enhances your overall experience. 
Overall, I believe you will be satisfied with your new adventures in
reading.  You will become better rounded,
more interesting, and have a lot to talk about at cocktail parties and
networking events.

i
Bergland, C. (2014). Reading Improves Brain Connectivity and Function.
Psychology Today. January 4, 2014 as retrieved January 3, 2018 from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201401/reading-fiction-improves-brain-connectivity-and-function

 

ii Reading
Statistics (2018). Statistic Brain. As retrieved January 3, 2018 from: https://www.statisticbrain.com/reading-statistics/

 

iii
LaRosa, J (2017). $9.9 Billion Self-Improvement Market Challenged By Younger
and More Demanding Millennials, Changing Technology. WebWire. As retrieved
January 3, 2018 from: https://www.webwire.com/ViewPressRel.asp?aId=211649

 

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