Tag Archive: learning

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!

Why Be A News Junkie?

I confess: I am a news junkie.  Google Reader is my downfall – I get local news, national news, world news, consumer news, faith news, weather news, you name it.  Some of my friends seem to appreciate this; they know they can ask me about pretty much any topic currently in the news and I’ll know about it.  Others just give me blank stares when I mention current events; then, when I explain how I know about the topic, they ask variations of “Why do you follow the news so much?”  Frustrating, yes – but why indeed?  The cop-out answer is “To be informed,” but why do I feel this need to be informed?  Does it serve a purpose or am I just trying to make myself look smart?  More importantly, is keeping up with current events a worthwhile focus for Christians?I fully admit that for me, it’s easy for pride to creep in in this area.  It makes me look intelligent and well read when I can provide some factoid in a conversation that no one else knows.  Not that providing new information is always a bad thing, but when it causes me to think that I’m somehow superior to everyone else because I knew this information and they didn’t, it becomes so.  A second source of pride, which may perhaps be more insidious, is thinking that I am somehow better than the people in the story I’m reading about.  For example, if I’m reading a story about a family being displaced from their home due to a river flooding, I have a tendency to think, “Well, that’s what they get for building a house in a flood plain.”  As soon as that happens, I forget that I’m reading about real people; rather than love them as Christ loves them, I disconnect from their pain and suffering and elevate myself.  “Then the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”  The best way I have found to combat this tendency in myself is the best way to combat any problem: prayer.  If I pray for the fictional family in this scenario rather than just be glad I’m not in their shoes, I remember that they are precious to God, and thus should be precious to me.  My cynicism doesn’t help them; my prayer does.Despite the clear danger of this type of prideful thinking, I think there is still a lot of benefit in being versed in current events.  As Christians, we are stewards of the resources God has given us; here in the United States, we have many opportunities to use those resources, wisely or otherwise.  By keeping up with the news, I can form educated opinions on which companies I will choose to spend money at.  If I find out one day that Company X is supporting a cause I believe to be harmful to society, treating its employees poorly, or taking advantage of its customers, I can make an effort to not support them because of this information.  The reverse is also true; if I find out that Company Y is supporting a cause I believe in or takes an action showing high respect for its customer base, I will be more likely to do business with them.

Another interesting result I have noticed since being in graduate school is that people are curious.  As a Christian, my perspective on some issues is quite different from that of many of my friends and coworkers.  Having conversations about various hot-button topics has enabled me to both learn from them and share my perspective (and, most importantly, the reason for that perspective).  Some great discussions have resulted from a story about a politician, or a law, or a natural disaster.

It’s not always easy for me to maintain a balance between being informed and being lost in a sea of information; in fact, if I had to guess, I would say that I take it too far about 50% of the time.  Even so, I think I’ve learned a lot about empathy, compassion, prayer, humility, and grace as a result of my mild news obsession – even though I’m actually trying to cut back, I hope I can keep learning these lessons and more in the future.