Myth: The More I Read, So, the Better I Will Lead
What’s on your summer reading list? A mystery? Novel? Biography? Well, if you haven’t picked your books yet and you’re looking to improve your leadership skills while working on your tan, you’re in luck. When you Google “books on how to become a better leader,” there are more than 990,000 suggestions. Clearly we’re a business community that is driven to be better leaders. And, given the number of books out there offering tips, tools and success stories, it’s safe to assume that the more of them we read, the more we’ll learn how to lead. Right? Wrong!
Now, don’t misunderstand me - I’m all for life-long learning and continue to do so myself. But, as my experience with leadership development has taught me, there comes a time in our lives when we have to stop reading in order to start succeeding!
Let me explain. When we’re first starting out in our careers, or transitioning from one field/job to another, books can serve as vital resources. As I wrote in my essay for the The Gratitude Book Project, when I was at a crossroads in my personal and professional life, I spent a lot of time reading and reflecting – a process that ultimately gave me the courage to start my own company. But was it the books that empowered me to act? Of course not. The books served as a catalyst for self-reflection. And once I became more self-aware, I had the life-changing realization that, while I had owned many, many books, I had never truly owned my life or my career. Do you own yours? Or do you own books that tell you about someone else’s? How can we possibly lead others, when we aren’t yet leading ourselves?
That’s the question Harvard Professor, Bill George, has asked and the answer is, we can’t. Self-awareness is at the foundation of effective leadership. All too often, though, in the trainings we attend and the books we read, we’re taught the leadership skills of others rather than the process it takes to discover our own. George puts it this way:
The essence of leadership is not trying to emulate someone else, no matter how brilliant they are. Nor is it having the ideal leadership style, achieving competencies or fixing your weaknesses. In fact, you don't need power or titles to lead. You only have to be authentic.
Authenticity does not come from reading someone else’s story; it comes from taking the time to know yours – who you are and why you think, feel and behave the way you do. So this summer, instead of a reading list, start working on your “leading” list, and trust that your story will give you the tools you need to become the leader you want to be.