In my work coaching leaders over the past 20 years I have come to recognise many common challenges faced by most leaders however, the one which sticks out more than any other is how to continue to develop self. Almost every day I hear leaders and managers say that they would love to learn X or Y but it would mean taking time out from their business which is difficult, especially for owners and entrepreneurs who often are the lynch pins of their business. And yet continuous learning is essential for ongoing success for so many reasons.
It is a fact that we are living and working in an environment which is changing at a faster pace than ever before, leaders are dealing with complex challenges every day, the economic and political climate is volatile and seems to offer surprises at every turn and yet many leaders just expect to be able to keep up – they expect the lessons they learned as young managers to still work for them; and even when they realise they aren’t getting the results they need they still have no time to stop and take stock, learn new methods and try again.
What is the Answer?
I am NOT claiming to be able to solve all these challenges in one or two paragraphs of advice however I do offer all my coaching clients one tip which has helped me throughout my working life. READ. Yes it’s very simple and many of you will now be saying things like
“I don’t have time to read”, “reading is not my thing” “there are too many books to choose from, how will I know which one to start with?” etc etc. Trust me in my time as a coach I have heard all the excuses under the sun. However one thing remains clear – leaders who read are better leaders.
The benefits of reading are many:
- Mental Stimulation. Studies have shown that diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia can be slowed down or possibly prevented by regular mental stimulation. It makes sense when you think of the brain as a muscle and like all muscles it needs regular exercise to keep it fit and healthy so anything which gives you a cognitive workout will be of benefit.
- Knowledge. It’s the one thing you can never lose! Even in the worst circumstances you will always have the knowledge you have gained to help you get back on your feet. From a more positive position, knowledge gives us strength in order to lead effectively in today’s VUCA world. There are millions of business books available- just Google search Leadership Books and you get 34,800,000 pages of results. Not all will be a good read or even helpful, but some will. Start by asking for book recommendations from people who you admire as leaders (or readers) and get reading.
- Stress Reduction. Mental health is a hot topic right now and most of have felt the need to escape from the pressures of daily life from time to time. It’s not always possible to escape to a beach to recharge our batteries but escaping into a good book is doable. A well written story can transport you to that beach and can give you the opportunity to relax and mentally recharge.
- Memory Improvement. When you read fiction, you have to remember an array of characters, their back stories, dreams, likes and dislikes, friends and enemies, as well as the various arcs and sub-plots that weave their way through every story. That’s a lot to remember but our brains handle it with ease. This flexing of our mental muscles improves our short-term memory recall ability.
- Better Writing Skills and Vocabulary. In a similar way to building knowledge through reading we also be build our banks of vocabulary. Being articulate is a core requirement of a leader. Even the most visionary leader will fail if he cannot communicate what he sees for the future. Having a strong command of the written word is expected of people in leadership positions. Even in the world of high tech solutions we all still need to write (emails, applications, articles, reports, papers, etc) and being exposed to well written, published works will undoubtedly help you in your own writing style.
- Increased Focus and Concentration. Technology is enabling us in many ways, we are able to meet with people across the world at the touch of a button, we can create and send documents in an instant to all corners of the globe and we can keep up to date with news and information from multiple channels. The downside is that our brains are trying to focus on multiple tasks all at once. In a single 5 minute period the average person will divide their time between checking email, chatting to a couple of people (via skype, messenger etc), working on a task, interacting with co- workers, monitoring their smartphone and perhaps watching their news or Twitter feed. Our ability to concentrate on one thing is noticeably diminished and therefore our productivity is reduced. Reading allows us to focus on just one thing. Practicing this daily even for short periods of time (15-30 minutes) really helps our ability to concentrate on tasks and improve our output
There are many benefits to regular reading but we still need to make time to do it. The thought of picking up a book can be daunting however as with most things in life its less overwhelming when you can break it down into bite sized chunks. So my biggest tip is to just read 10 pages per day. This will take the average reader about 30 minutes. Just 30 minutes per day to get all these benefits- surely that’s worth it? And if you do it consistently it will be come a habit and hopefully one which you enjoy. 10 pages a day, every day for a year equals 3650 pages which is about 10-12 books. Personally I separate my “business reading” from my fiction reading. I read 10 pages minimum every day of a book which will help me in my work, usually a leadership book. Then I read for pleasure at the end of every day- sometimes a trashy novel, sometimes a more challenging fictional work. It works for me and helps me build knowledge and exercise my brain, as well as relax and unwind from day to day stresses. I hope you will be inspired to pick up a book and give reading a try. If you would like book recommendations feel free to get in touch.