Tag Archive: book

Why Leaders are Readers

“You are the same today that you are going to be in five years from now except for two things: the people with whom you associate and the books you read.” – Charles Jones

We’ve talked numerous times on The Reversal about the power of association with friends, but there are other associations that influence us as leaders.  In his lecture, The Power of Association (click to download), John Maxwell talks about the power of association to make us great, or to bring us down.  He says, if you want to be great, spend time with great people, visit great places, attend great events, read great books, and listen to great lectures.  This implies a certain filter on what we read, watch, and spend time on.  There is an opportunity cost to reading and watching anything.  If we are reading a book, we are missing out on many other books we could be reading.  Do you filter what you read/watch?

Reading will not work best for everyone.  If you are the type of person who likes to categorize ideas, or learns from reviewing notes,  or likes to hear a well thought out and structured argument, or if focusing and silence help you relax after a long day then reading is a great way to learn.  I encourage you to do it more!  On the other hand if you are a tactile learner, doing an activity might be a better learning method.  If you are a visual learner, a movie or video will probably keep you interested and increase your learning (there are many videos that go with books – check them out).  Some of the benefits that are unique to reading include:

  • Learning timeless truths – books are the only media which have been around long enough to pass the test of time.
  • Reading is an active pastime as opposed to TV which requires no mental input.
  • Both traditional and digital books are portable and silent so they can be read almost anywhere.
  • You receive a constant input of new ideas and thoughts spread out over a long time.
  • Reading great writing can improve your own.  This goes with the learning model: see one, do one, teach one.
  • Books can be easily shared with other people, loan it to them, or buy a $0.50 one from Half.com!

So, if you’re trying to spend our time wisely, which books should you read?  There are so many choices!

In his book, Contrairians Guide to Leadership, Steven Sample talks about the leadership class that he taught while at the University of Southern California.  The class was for students at the top of their class and lasted an entire year.  The focus of the class was on leadership, but one of the segments was devoted to the classics of literature.  Sample defines a classic as a book that is 400 years or older that is still widely read today.  How many books can you think of that fit this description?  Write them down. … Give up?  Here are a few examples that you probably got: The Bible, Koran, Beowulf, Shakespeare, Canterbury Tales, Bhagavad Gita, Analects of Confucius, Sophocles, Pluchart, and Machiavelli’s The Prince.  If you were really up to speed on your classics you might come up with 40 books that fit the bill.

That is astounding!  Of all the writings published over a the span of a few millennium only 40 are still read widely today.  These books form the foundation for all of modern thought.  Most of modern thinking is a recombination or spin off of the thinking that was originally recorded in these books.  Not to say that nothing new has been thought of in the time since these were written (science/technology), but these books are still read today because they continue to speak into our modern contexts.  They contain timeless truths, and these are important to understand.  Don’t reinvent the wheel, go to the source.  Look for reviews and leadership lessons from some classics I’ve been reading on The Reversal soon!  Update: To read about the most important classic, The Bible, check out Adam’s post, “The Bible: More Than Just Food For Thought.”

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” – Francis Bacon

I am usually reading one classic book alongside of one modern book.  For modern reading I recommend checking out books that have gained popularity and are reviewed by others as worth the time.  A great resource for finding reviews is Amazon.com.  They have customer reviews on almost everything they sell (if there are no reviews, probably not worth your time).  Also, I’ve had good luck with reviews being accurate on Amazon.  In the end it must come down to what you are interested in, I am not advocating reading books that do not interest you!  That said, try something new, you might like it!

Have a particularly good book that you’ve read recently?  Share in the comments below!


Title: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Author: Stephen R. Covey, Wikipedia Bio
Topic: Personal Leadership
ISBN-10: 9780671708634
Purchase: Half.com ($2.88), Amazon.com ($5.30)
My Rating: ★★★★★


“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

I chose to read 7 Habits because of all the positive reviews it received.  It is a modern classic and I was curious to see what all of the hype was about.  I began reading with the expectation that the book would be excellent.  In my mind, I placed it alongside such works as Jim Collins’ Good to Great, Ken Blanchard’s One Minute Manager, or John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.  I believe it surpassed my expectations!  Below is a quick summary of each of the habits and some of my thoughts:

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 1 is about taking initiative and responsibility.  It’s about living out preventive maintenance and solving problems before they become problems.  In my own experience being able to be proactive and know what someone needs before they do is an invaluable skill and earns a lot of points!  As an engineer or designer, being able to predict problems in the design stage can save millions of dollars in redesign and recalls.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
In your own life, where are you going?  If you are the leader of an organization, where are you taking your followers; what is the vision?  Covey also touches on the difference between leadership and management.  The manager asks, how fast can we cut down this forest?  The leader asks, is this the right forest?   Last he talks about what is at the center of our lives.  Covey writes, “Whatever is at the center of our life will be the source of our security, guidance, wisdom, and power.”  Have the right thing at the center.

Habit 3: Put First Things First
Goethe says, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”  Covey makes a convicting distinction between what is urgent and what is important.  A telephone ringing is urgent, but the person sitting in your office is much more important.  Covey argues that we spend too much time on things that are urgent but not important.  Do we know what is important in our lives?  What would we miss if it was suddenly gone or, what would we regret not doing if our chance has passed?

Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Covey talks about stubbornly seeking to find solutions that are wins for both parties (like Scott Lang).  This solution is often difficult to see at first and requires cooperation from both sides to find.  I envision it as two people writing the problem on a white board and looking at it together instead of arguing with each other across a table. (great complementary book which expands on these principles titled, Difficult Conversations)

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
For me this was one of the most easily applied chapters.  It is easy to tell if you are trying to impose understanding on someone else before you have understood them.  This chapter talks about our own stories which we fit all of our experiences into.  Many times other people and their stories do not fit!  I have told many of my friends that his habit is a game changer.  Cliche jargon aside, I do believe that this can have an immediate impact on your relationships.  If you can set your story aside, especially if angry, and seek first to see where the other person is coming from, you’d be amazed at the results.  Update: I have written a blog post dedicated to this chapter here: Listening From a Learning Perspective

Habit 6: Synergize
Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  A team’s capability is greater than the capabilities of each team member separately.  I have studied synergy before but this chapter is one of the most profound resources on the topic I have found so far.  When combined with Win/Win it’s an unstoppable combination.  Covey also makes an interesting point about valuing the differences between people.  Covey writes, “The person who is truly effective has the humility and reverence to recognize his own perceptual limitations and to appreciate the rich resources available through interaction with the hearts and minds of other human beings.  That person values the differences because those differences adds to their knowledge, to their understanding of reality.”

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Sharpen the saw is about taking a break once in a while and refueling the tank.  I believe humans were designed to operate like this.  That is why God gave us a sabbath.  Covey encourages taking time to reflect and internalize the happenings of your day/week. 


Don’t get trapped into thinking that because 7 Habits is popular it isn’t good (that’s Twilight).  It’s popular because it contains things worth knowing.

It is just another “self-help” book and should be avoided.  This is an assumed constraint.  I challenge you to try it yourself and then judge if it’s advice is “useless self-help nonsense.”  Also we all need help, sometimes we’re the only ones who can help ourselves!

The book is not worthy of your time because the ideas are common sense.  Covey makes this point throughout the book; the ideas contained in 7 Habits are principles which weave themselves throughout all of history.  Many of them are common sense, but just because they are simple ideas does not mean they are easily practiced.  It will take anyone many years to become proficient at these habits, we can use all the reminders we can get.

Because you’ve read this review (or any) you understand the principles of 7 Habits!  The book was very dense and I had to resist the urge to write down every sentence.  If you’re interested read the whole book not just spark notes!

For a second opinion on 7 Habits check out the highest rated reader review on Amazon.com.