An Essential Practice for Leaders

March 19, 2013 — 16 Comments

This is a guest post from my wife, Sara. Show her your support by leaving a comment below.

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” ~Harry S. Truman

What Austin is currently reading.

What Austin is currently reading.

I had heard a variation of that quote many, many times in the last three years. Usually, the variation said, “readers are leaders and leaders are readers.” It went with an encouragement to READ if you were in leadership. The assumption is that one cannot adequately lead without reading.

About a year ago, as Austin and I sat down after I had put Lylah to bed, I looked around our house in an overwhelmed, exhausted stupor. My eyes shifted from the pile of dishes to the dirty bottles to the stack of blankets and burp rags to the pile of mail and receipts. Being a new parent is tough. Period. Being a new parent who works outside the home just brings an added layer of disorganization and stress.

In that overwhelmed moment I also saw a stack of books on a side table. It was a stack about 15 books high that I wanted to read. They all had to do with leadership or ministry in some fashion. Sadly, the stack was only getting taller in those early months of being a mama.

That night, it was that silly stack of books that overwhelmed me more than the bottles, burp rags and mail. I lamented that “leaders are readers” and that I didn’t have time to read (let alone stay on top of the accoutrements of being a mama, pastor, wife, and homeowner). I’m pretty sure I burst into tears.

Austin, being ever graceful and ever patient, listened to me. It was probably the end of a long day at the end of a long week. Lylah was probably going through her “I-don’t-want-to-be-swaddled-at-night-but-it’ll-take-you-3-weeks-to-figure-that-out” phase. He made the suggestion to do something about my wanting to read. He also washed bottles, God bless him.

We had both read the book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. Change starts in tiny steps, the Heath brothers said. The only way that I was to be a leader who reads was to begin reading. Open a book. Read a page. One book at a time.

I wanted to set a goal that was achievable and manageable long term. A book each week was not sustainable for me, and is still not a sustainable pace for this time in my life. I set my goal for 2 books a month. As a recovering perfectionist, I also added the caveat that if, after an hour of reading, the book was not applicable or interesting, I could stop. This saves me from the line of thinking: “this books isn’t that great or relevant but now that I’ve started I need to finish it!” There were plenty of books that, after reading for a bit, I chose to leave unfinished and move from my big stack to my bookshelf at the office.

As a leader in your team or organization, you have untold power and influence. Why not enhance that by reading. Take your team or organization to new levels. Read about current trends. Read about leadership. Read that book everyone is talking about on Facebook (No I’m not talking about 50 Shades of Grey. No, I will never read that book). Read authors with whom you agree and with whom you disagree. Read read read. Lead lead lead.

As a result of all of this reading, I feel that my preaching has improved. I am also leading my session through a book together. I already know which book I want our session to read through in 2014. My leadership skills and time management have improved. I know that yours can, too.

Even if you’re not at the helm of your team or organization, lead from the middle. Lead from example. Lead those around you or those who directly report to you.

In 2012 I read 18 books for ministry and leadership. Some were read in their entirety, others weren’t. I began keeping an Evernote notebook to write the titles down. So far in 2013, I’ve read seven books. I am currently reading Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? by Rhoda Janzen, and The End of Leadership by Barbara Kellerman.

Are you a leader? Are you a leader who reads? Do you think it is a crucial part of leadership?


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I'm a pastor, writer, speaker, husband, father, and follower of Christ, to name a few titles. You can find my contact information in my About page.
  • supergramma

    I have always been a reader, but not necessarily a leader. I will be a more thoughtful reader as a result of reading your post & make more eclectic choices. I’m glad to know you agree it’s ok to not plow through a book that doesn’t necessarily fit your needs or interests just because you began reading it. I will no longer feel guilty about quitting on uninteresting or uninspiring books.

    • scrhill

      Why do so many of us feel guilty about stopping a book halfway through? It is a hard habit to break, but it is really freeing!

      • I struggle with it, too. I feel like I’m not giving the book a fair shake, but if books are supposed to help us grow, there’s no sense in wasting our time on books that aren’t helping us.

  • Andy Koning

    Well said! (And I love me some Timothy Zahn too, Austin)

  • dave

    great post

  • A good encouragement for all of us to read & grow.
    A very good reminder that we need to be able to dispense grace upon ourselves. That is a critical art form for the leader!

    • scrhill

      Giving myself more grace is something I am working towards this year as a personal goal. Thanks, Dick.

  • Joanne Lee

    Wow! What an inspiring message. Makes me want really keep up on the book I’m reading right now – “To Busy NOT to Pray.” Thank you for your thoughts.

    • scrhill

      I hear that is a great book. Let me know what you think when you finish it.

  • SWMorgan

    Great post – and if you read 18 books the first year of motherhood, you are an amazing!!!

    • scrhill

      Thanks! It helps that Lylah is a great sleeper, so that gave me time at night to read.

    • I agree!

  • Aunt Beck

    Sara, you inspire me!

    • scrhill

      Thanks, Aunt Beck. I love you.

  • Ouida

    Sara, you have made a light come on in my head and inspired me to get off this iPad and read those pertinent books to help me. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • scrhill

      You’re welcome Ouida!