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  • Writer's picturePhil Cole

The Value of a Book (THE LIST: Read to Lead)

Before a marketer creates an ad, he or she describes the audience: what they do, what they like, where they are. This helps target the ad to the specific type of people. When we do this exercise for ReDefine, one point that always comes up is that our audience reads books. Why is this so important? Because the people who get value from our work actively seek out new ways to lead, and they know – intuitively or not – that books are one of the most powerful and effective tools to do so.

Here's the way to quantify the value of reading. For investors, a return of, say, 50% over a few years is fantastic. Buy a book or two for $20 each, spend a couple of hours reading, implement a behavioral change that improves your performance, and get a raise for a few grand each year of the rest of your career. What’s the return on that investment?

This is the basic point that Jeff Brown and Jesse Wisnewski make it Read to Lead: The Simple Habit That Expands Your Influence and Boosts Your Career. They build on this idea with a set of useful tools to inspire, encourage, and support a habit of reading.

One of the basic points that Mr. Brown and Mr. Wisenewski make is that writing a book is fundamentally different from posting on social media and that we as learners have to see that value. When an author writes a book, she puts her heart into the pages and then puts her name on the cover. The information in the book – or the story, for fiction authors – represents the best that she can do. Social media, by contrast, is driven by catching people’s attention. Think of all of the leadership quotes and photos of expensive cars and houses that feel good but fade quickly, never creating behavioral change. Yes, there are plenty of examples of structured learning on social media sites, but these resources are buried in among the noise and flash. Unless we see the difference, we are likely to be distracted by a definition of leadership that is misleading.

Read to Lead has plenty of practical tactics, and they apply to deliberate learning more generally. For example, Chapter 6 describes nine tactics to find a few minutes of reading time:

  1. Reading doesn’t take as long as you think.

  2. Commit to making reading a priority.

  3. Review your life’s rhythms.

  4. Slay the most common distractions.

  5. Replace something.

  6. Fight tech with tech.

  7. Schedule your ideal day and week.

  8. Say no when you say yes too often.

  9. Make time to read throughout the day.

These tactics also create space for us to process and reflect on our experiences through the learning cycle, and to look for and move forward from the markers of learning. The habits that support reading are the same habits that allow us to grow our leadership practices.

The third section of Read to Lead offers specific tactics to increase understanding and comprehension. While this presentation tends to treat learning as a traditional, “remember the details” activity, the same tactics support behavioral change. When the subject of taking action comes up in the book, consider applying the adult learning cycle. What is the situation where this idea is relevant, what is the trigger that shows a behavior should be applied, and what are the details of that specific behavior? Finally, what outcome demonstrates that the behavior worked? For a greater investigation of this process, consider the SEEING EXERCISE Incorporating New Leadership Ideas.

Because I assume you are already a reader, the tactics in this section may apply only partially to your specific situation, but they remind you of the reason we read: so that we are exposed to new ideas. If we improve by 1% each week for a year, that's 50% over a year (leaving some time for holidays, of course). But if we improve our ability to learn, we can get even more results. If there are one or two ideas that increase your speed and comprehension by a little bit, say 10%, that is 10% more time available to gather additional ideas, which makes the 1% per week into 1.10% per week. Change happens in small increments, and an improvement in the process of changing has huge payoffs over a lifetime. This is the value of books I mentioned at the beginning of this article.

As always, the challenge with structured learning (such as books, training classes, videos, etc.) is to accomplish behavioral change. If we read something and don't change our behavior, we wasted our time. The solution is to use the learning tools to solidify the tactics we read into tactics we practice.

At a time when the distractions of social media and TV are ever-present, Read to Lead is both a reminder and a resource to focus our attention on deliberate learning. We must be deliberate and conscious in our quest for knowledge, no matter the form that conveys that knowledge.

Welcome to THE LIST!

Brown, Jeff, and Jesse Wisnewski. “Read to Lead: The Simple Habit That Expands Your Influence and Boosts Your Career.” Baker Books, 2021.

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