By Chris Hulshof
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a professional development seminar that had several prominent leaders as keynote speakers. There was one speaker in particular that I was looking forward to hearing from.
When she took the stage, she was as advertised. She was confident, charismatic, memorable, and engaging.
Her talk concluded and a time of questions and answers began. One question and her subsequent answer caught my attention. She was asked, “What are you currently reading that is influencing you as a leader?”
She responded by saying something along the lines of, “I’m not much a reader, I prefer to fly by the seat of my pants and go with my gut when it comes to making decisions.”
Harry Truman once said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
The leadership influence of this keynote speaker was short-lived. Like a shooting star that lights up the night for only a brief period and then fades into the dark sky, her role and her influence as a leader have come and gone.
There are four reasons why I believe Truman is correct in his assertion that leaders are readers.
1. The priority of learning
A leader who is a reader places a priority on learning. Learning takes time. For many in leadership, the crowded calendar has already squeezed out every available moment.
So, a leader who is a reader is one who has made learning a priority and marked off time to read.
What we give priority to is, in some sense, a measure of its value to us. Allotting time to learning through reading is indicative of the value we place on learning.
For many who’ve moved beyond schooling as the means of learning, improving what we know, or acquiring new knowledge will mostly come from reading.
To that end, gaining knowledge through reading will demand the discipline of priority if learning through reading is to be accomplished.
2. The humility of learning
A leader who is committed to reading is a leader who is honest enough to say, “I don’t know but I want to learn.”
A commitment to continued learning even though the academic degree has been earned is noted in the diligent desire to identify areas where knowledge is lacking, seek out the resources that will fill the knowledge gap, and then dedicate the time necessary to read those books.
Consider areas of biblical studies, theological studies, or cultural engagement where your knowledge may not be on par with areas that are your strong suit.
One way to become a better leader is to, in humility, own up to this weakness and then purposefully become more conversant in these places.
As a professor, one question I routinely ask myself that helps flesh out places that I need to be better read is, If a student asked me a question related to a particular topic, would I be able to give a knowledgeable and comprehensible answer?
When my answer to that question is no, I’ve identified an area that I need to spend some time studying.
3. The enjoyment of learning
There’s pleasure in learning something new. Enjoyment and learning often go hand-in-hand.
Consider the joy of learning a new hobby like photography. There’s a tangible sense of pleasure as you learn more about the art and skill of “picture-making” There is pleasure in discovery.
The same is true about reading. Reading can expose us to things we didn’t know and create a sense of enjoyment.
While this is likely true about things learned that are related to our profession and calling, it can also be true about things we learn that are related to things of personal interest to us.
This is one reason why I enjoy reading biographies. There is a sense of enjoyment in getting to know someone that I have admired for things like their music, their influence in a specific discipline, or their historical importance.
4. The teachability of learning
Teachability is a characteristic that leaders like to talk about. This is especially true when it comes to hiring people. “Would you describe this person as teachable?” is a question they may ask a reference listed on the candidate’s application.
Ironically, a character trait that is much in demand by leaders is often a character trait they don’t model. A leader who reads demonstrates that they are teachable because every book they read proclaims, “I am still a student.”
A book allows a leader to sit under the instruction of a person they may never have the chance to meet because of proximity, personal network, or even death.
In reading a book by a person of influence or significance the leader is saying, “I don’t know what you know about this topic, would you mind teaching me?”
To that question, the book always responds with a resounding, “Yes!”
Keeping Truman’s adage in mind, let’s commit to being better leaders through the humility, teachability, priority, and enjoyment of reading.
CHRIS HULSHOF (@US_EH) is an associate professor for Liberty University’s Rawlings School of Divinity where he teaches Old Testament Survey, Inductive Bible Study, and Theology of Suffering and Disability. You can study the Bible with Chris on Instagram @VisualBibleStudy.