The Leader as Lifelong Learner

This is a guest post by Daniel Offer. He operates the Facebook chat software Chit Chat. Chit Chat is a Facebook login application that benefits Facebook chat users by allowing them to access Facebook with a desktop chat messenger.

Widely considered to be one of America’s greatest business philosophers, Jim Rohn, the late Dallas businessman and dynamic public speaker, is well known for his commitment to lifelong personal development. During his talks on the subject, he is fond of pointing out that every house that costs over $500,000 (adjusted for inflation) has a room in it called a library.

A Stack of Books Outside - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #3906868

Photo courtesy of ©

“Why do you suppose that is?” Rohn challenges his audience. “Doesn’t that make you curious? How come every house over $500,000 has got a library? Does that tell you something? Does that educate you at all?”

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There is no doubt that Rohn is right; successful people do read more. Leaders, in particular, seem to read more than almost anyone else. After all, curiosity is often cited as a common characteristic of great leaders. Lincoln was famous for reading both the Bible and Shakespeare; Franklin Roosevelt loved Kipling. “Every great leader I’ve ever met has been a great reader,” says Rohn.

For most of us, books were where it all began.

Usually a person finds they were infected with a love of books at an early age, usually by a fellow carrier of the disease, more often than not a parent or teacher. That wonderful ability of a great book to transport our minds to new and unexplored places can have a tremendous impact on us. For the truly fortunate, a love of reading can easily lead to a love of learning—a gift that will well serve both leaders and those who simply aspire to leadership.

Too often, however, leaders allow themselves to get out of the reading habit. When it comes to learning, the brain can be likened to a muscle, and so like a muscle, it has to be regularly exercised. As we get older it will be increasingly important for us to continue exercising our brains, and there is nothing that compares to reading for keeping the brain in top shape. Additionally, as we progress through the leadership ranks within our organizations, we will need the increased knowledge and skills that only reading can provide.

The challenge to continue to grow and learn is one that each person must accept for themselves. Personal development is just that—personal. What works for one person may not work for someone else, and success may mean continually trying different strategies. But regardless of how we learn, reading will still be the primary method, and books will still be the primary tool. The key is to get yourself back to the books and you may find that you need some help getting back into the habit.

Here are three strategies:

  1. Read more than one book at a time. If everything we should be reading had the same plot and pace as an episode of The Bourne Trilogy then learning about search engine optimization or social marketing would make reading to learn an easier sell. To truly grow we will need to learn to dive into subjects that can often be as dry as a west Texas summer, and we will need to learn to stay with them until the very end.

    Continue with the goal of reading so many chapters or “x” number of pages in mind, but if you find your mind wandering before reaching your reading goal for the night, try dropping one book and picking up another. Continue reading to your goal, but allow your mind more choice in the subject of the moment. If you find the new material interesting, keep working through it, but if not drop that book too and either go back to your original book or try out a third title.

  2. Try reading in more than one place. On a similar theme to reading more than one book at a time, have books set aside to read when you are at a different locations. A book stored in your briefcase, backpack, or carrying case can insure you are always able to take advantage of down time in your schedule. A doctor who is running late can add a chapter to your reservoir of knowledge.

    Similarly, a book stashed in your desk at work can be a great way to recharge your batteries. Consider reading for ten or fifteen minutes at least once during your work day. You may find that not only do you reach your goal of using reading to learn, you are also more excited about the work you were doing prior to your brain break.

  3. Make use of the latest technologies. By now everyone is aware of the benefits of using an e-Book reader similar to Amazon’s Kindle or Apple’s iPad. These technologies make carrying a number of books with you at all times much more convenient, and anything that makes reading easier is always a good idea.

    Books on tape were a wonderful invention, allowing what Zig Ziglar called Automobile University. Today books can be recorded as MP3 files, greatly reducing the size of the files and allowing you to keep a number of audio books on your iPod at any one time. Your phone can be another great place to keep an audio book, and you can be sure you will usually have it, and so them, with you most of the time.

No matter what, don’t stop. Using these or other strategies to increase the number of books you read each year will help you grow both as a person and as a leader. Think of the value you could bring your organization if you could speak another language. Think of how much more valuable you will be in the marketplace if you bring a deep understanding of accounting and finance to the work you perform.

Reading can be the key to all knowledge, and having the discipline to regularly read a number of books on a wide range of subjects can be the key to success.

Question: What strategies do you use to make time for reading? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • April Rowen

    I really appreciate Jim Rohn’s point that every house worth over $500,000 has a built-in library. Sometimes family and friends think that reading is laziness or fun, but nothing more. Now I have Jim to back me up =)

    And Jim’s point proves that the Beast in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was a sharp cookie.

  • Juan

    With the advent of ebook readers my life has changed completely as now I read more due to the convinience of the iPad.
    For example While I walk or run on the treadmill I am reading maybe a chapter at that time. I can easily say that a week I read 1 to 2 books.

  • Ron Curtis

    Jim Rohn was an amazing speaker. His albums are still influencing people I meet today.

    The Leader’s responsibility is to continually improve for the benefit of his group. Daily personal growth is not only required, it is embraced!

    God bless,

  • Kathy Fannon

    Michael, this would be a great place to link to your article about retaining what we read!

    As a visual learner, books-on-tape would never work for me!

    My dad has always been a reader and when I was in junior high he made me read 15 minutes a day and each weekeday had it’s own book. That was tough trying to remember when I had read for only 15 minutes the week before! He finally relented and let me read what I wanted, and I did read a lot. I’m glad he instilled that value in me.

    I used to volunteer for the Language Arts teacher at my kids’ junior high. He often commented on how he knew who the readers were based on their writing papers. He was also frustrated with all of the “LOL”s and “j/k”s he was finding on papers now. Writing has come a long way in 40 years! He’s now retired.

  • Gail

    I have my Mum to thank for my reading addiction. I am the second oldest of six kids and when she got to that tricky stage with napping kids and non napping kids under the age of 5 she developed “bookie time” which was an hour or so each afternoon when we had to lie on our beds and read (look at pictures) while our younger siblings had their nap. This continued through primary school. It gave Mum some time out each afternoon and gave us all a love of books. I am so thankful for that great start.

    On audio books – my sister gave me Anne of Green Gables on cd for Christmas a few years ago as I loved it as a child. I took it on a road trip and had to stop driving because I cried so much when Matthew died :(

  • Kingsly

    I love this article because i love reading.
    I recently had doubts on reading multiple books at the same time. I usually do it. I thought it was a bad strategy since i am not completing what i start. But then thanks for the clarification.

  • Kingsly

    I like your article since i love reading. I do read multiple books and sometimes get guilty abt it. But then thanks for clarifying. Thanks

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  • Christopher Scott

    I love to read, and the main strategy that I have is to read my Bible every morning. I’m pretty good at making sure this happens every day, and it helps to get me started on the right foot.

    I also keep a book with me wherever I go. If I am going to a meeting or an appointment, I take a book with me. Those three minutes spent in the reception area waiting to be called in for my appointment become reading time. Just as I begin my morning reading, I also end it reading. I try to read at the end of my day.

    Not to mention I read a lot more on Saturdays and Sundays than I do the rest of the week. Those are the days where I really crank out some serious reading and make progress.

  • Sally M. Chetwynd

    I employ two of your guest blogger’s suggestions – more than one book going at a time, and having ‘active’ books scattered all over the house, in my car, and in the ‘everything’ bag I lug around. (I don’t really see myself ever getting into ebooks. They just don’t appeal to me.)

    This theory of a cultural relationship between success and having a room in a high-end residence devoted exclusively to a library is intriguing. My family was middle- to lower-middle class and large, and we had bookcases all over the house, but I think that lower and middle class families probably rarely have the money to afford a house big enough to devote a room entirely to a library, so the books end up all over the place.

    The idea of the brain as a muscle needing exercise is exactly right. I read a lot of 19th Century American writings, and because the prose style then was often more scholarly and formal, it takes a little time for one’s brain to become accustomed to reading and comprehension of these texts. Until I got used to it, I could feel physical manifestations of that stretching going on after a session of reading one of these pieces of rhetoric, journal, poetry, or novel.

  • Sabrina Justison

    Great encouragement!

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  • John Nemo

    Great post Michael! I make time for extra reading using audiobooks on my iPhone. The added bonus is that it makes usual solitary and mundane chores (shoveling snow, cutting grass, doing dishes) go by much faster because I get engrossed in the story I’m listening to!

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  • Uma Maheswaran S

    Great ideas Mike! Additionally, we can do onething. Swith off the television and keep it inside the carton box. I know many of my friends who had reduced their reading time after graduation purely becuase of television. TV viewing eats their time. ANd, of course, passion and desire to read will make a huge difference.

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  • Karl Rohde

    This is poignant post. It resonates with me as an avid reader. As adults reading is the primary tool of learning. It too remains the keystone of learning in the social age especially with Kindles, Kobo’s and Nooks. I wrote an article that I think your readers may find relevant to this: 
    How The Social Age has Transformed How We Learn