Should you read more books?

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Carrie emailed to request a post about how to read more books. Here’s an edited version of my answer.

Leaders read. We read articles and blogs to stay abreast of what’s going on in the world and to stay current on best practices. We read books to go deep on a subject and to spark reflection. Those are good things. You want to do them better. A popular way is to set a goal of reading more books. Be careful. A goal may drive behaviors that don’t help.

Gary Latham and Edwin Locke wrote a classic article about goals in 2002 in American Psychologist. They identified three ways that goals can help you perform better.

Goals can help you be more persistent. Goals can give you energy. Those are good things when it comes to reading. But goals also force you to make choices, and that can be a problem.

If you set a goal of reading x number of books, you’ll choose what you read and how you read in ways that help you achieve that goal. You’re likely to choose books that are short to make your book count go up. You’re likely to read quickly. You may avoid taking notes or reviewing material because they take time you could be using to read more books.

It’s a good idea to pair any counting goal with a definition of quality. Then develop habits that support both.

Choose the Right Books

Your reading will help you be a better leader if you choose books based on that goal. Read leadership books that are considered basics. Read any other core books in your specialty.

Reading the basics gives you a foundation and a way to judge other books that you read. Then you can read books that help you make progress.

Be picky about the books you choose to read. Get recommendations from savvy friends or from pundits you respect. Check out the written part of Amazon reviews before you decide to read a book. Those practices will help you choose books that are most likely to help you become a better leader.

Read Smart

Reading smart starts with abandoning any book that’s not helping you. There is no law that says you must finish a book just because you started it. Life is too short for crappy books. It’s also too short to read good books that don’t help you.

Get as much value as you can from what you read. That starts with highlighting and making notes. You’ll get even more value if you review your notes from time to time. A good way to do that, if you’re reading on Kindle, is to create flash cards.

Develop Good Reading Habits

Good reading habits will help you read in ways that are more likely to help you become a better leader. Develop a discipline for choosing what books you read. Develop the habits of making notes and highlights as you read and reviewing them from time to time.

Harness Good Reading Behaviors to A Goal

Now you have an idea of what an effective leadership reading experience is. Choose your books wisely. Highlight and make notes. Abandon books that aren’t helping. Review what you’ve read.

Now set a goal of reading time that will help you use those practices more and more. You might start with 15 minutes a day or 30. Start with something that you can do easily now. You can increase the goal later.

Track your progress. Make a resolution to keep the chain going. Don’t miss a day. And if you do miss a day, don’t let it become two in a row.

Bottom Line

Getting the most from your leadership reading means more than reading a lot of books. Read books that really help and squeeze a lot of value out of them. Set a goal to read a certain amount every day.


Michael McKinney has an excellent list of “Classic Leadership Books” on LeadershipNOW

Leadership Books: Suggestions for New Leaders

“These suggestions are for you if you’ve recently become responsible for the performance of a group or if you have a friend or protégé who has recently made that move.”

Best Books on 21st Century Management and Leadership

“Here are my picks for the best books about how the way we work in organizations is changing.”

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RtG   |   03 Oct 2019   |   Reply

Above you stated “They identified three ways that goals can help you perform better.” but only listed two. My interest was such that I had to pursue it (see below). It sounds like you are giving a system to accomplish the goal.

“Goals affect performance through four mechanisms.” from:
“Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation”

“First, goals serve a directive function;
they direct attention and effort toward goal-relevant activities and away from goal-irrelevant activities.”

“Second, goals have an energizing function.
High goals lead to greater effort than low goals.”

“Third, goals affect persistence.
When participants are allowed to control the time they spend on a task, hard goals
prolong effort.”

“Fourth, goals affect action indirectly by leading to the arousal, discovery, and/or use of task-relevant knowledge and strategies.”

Wally Bock   |   06 Oct 2019   |   Reply

Thanks for adding to the conversation.