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Healthy Leadership Is Reading

Alan Andersen

As we continue our expedition toward defining healthy leadership, I am most looking forward to the topic at hand. Today we discuss the power of reading books.

Alan, what is so special about reading that it stands out from all of the other elements of healthy leadership?

Fair question. I'll share 3 reasons why reading books is one of the most imperative ingredients of healthy leadership.

  1. Dr. Tim Keller says it best, "When you listen and read one thinker, you become a clone. Two thinkers, you become confused. Ten thinkers, you’ll begin developing your own voice. Two or three hundred thinkers, you become wise and develop your voice."
  2. You will eventually exhaust your own depth of wisdom. Therefore reading various authors will fuel your thinking and help you to develop your own sustainable wisdom. 
  3. I am a byproduct of learning through reading (or listening) to others. I won't belabor this point as I've already written about it here along with a list of the top ten-ish books you should read.

A Caveat

I want to clarify what I mean by "reading". My intention is to use the word "read" and "listen" interchangeably. In other words, if you're like me, then three of the five or six books you work through a month are via audio format.

Admittedly, I felt like I was "cheating" when I began listening to audio books. Primarily because it wasn't until 2009 that I hit my stride averaging a book a week, which was a difficult task. I would (and still do at times) read and re-read sentences or statements in order to make sure I'm comprehending what the author wants me to know.

What finally clicked that made audio books a legitimate medium for you?

I finally understood that hard copy and audio books are simply different ways to communicate with an author. Since it is unlikely that I can grab a cup of joe with my favorite author(s) (at least at this point in my life), there is nothing stopping me from getting their book to engage with them.

That conversation can happen regardless of the type of book I have. Whether I am reading or listening to a book, I am still capable of critically engaging with the author.

Principle number five: Healthy Leadership is Reading


I have mentioned this previously, but it bears repeating. Charlie "Tremendous" Jones beautifully highlights...

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” 

Who do you want to be five years from today? I'll bet there is a remarkable story out there of someone who has generously paid your and my "dumb tax" so that we can freely learn and accelerate the healthy growth process. That is, if we will only pick up a book.

Practical Application

I have a little secret I rarely tell people. I hated books and reading as a kid. Maybe hate isn't strong enough, I despised books and reading.


First, when I was growing up there was no such diagnosis called "ADD". It was called "repeat-a-grade", which I did. My inability to focus made a squirrel look contemplative.

Second, my mother's favorite hobby was taking our family all over the county (and sometimes beyond) to attend used books sales. Our weekend was literally combing through old, used books which sure eased my ADD tendencies. #False. (At least until I discovered National Geographic.)

Long story, longer. In my mid-twenties I found myself with my first vocational leadership role. What was the recommendation from my boss? "Andersen, leaders are readers." Thankfully the weight of the responsibility was large enough that I realized I had to begin reading authors who may know more than me and help shortcut my growth process. In other words, I began to work out my "reading muscle".

While it's more than a decade later, I now genuinely love reading. That is something I never would have thought I would say. Here is how I developed a true love for books and reading.

  1. Understand your learning style
    • Are you Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic?
  2. Choose a book with content you actually want to learn about
    • If you can, grab a shorter book for that matter.
  3. Create a rhythm for reading
    • Read 15 minutes in the morning, at lunch time and before bed.
    • Repeat that 5 or 6 days out of the week.
    • Before you know it, you'll have read for about four hours or more a week.
  4. Read with someone who'll keep you accountable
    • Non-negotiable, at least at first!

At the end of the day, the linchpin here is your motivation. If you're not truly motivated to read, you won't follow through. So let's end with this little exercise.

Ask: What would my life look like in five years from now if I did not learn anything else?
Ask: What would my life look like if in five years from now I became very well read on "X" topic or subject?

Now, which outcome seems more healthy?

I know a number of very smart people who do not read, at least with any regularity. So I ask that question sincerely. Maybe you don't need to read to learn anything further. Or maybe you're like me and have so much room for growth, that reading simply becomes a habitual joy. Either way, pursue a healthy dose of reading in your personal and professional life.

Pulling for you,

Alan Andersen


* I'm well aware of the push back on the VAK learning modalities. However, I use them as it makes sense when trying to quickly and simply create a starting point for someone to begin the learning process. 

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