Read to Succeed

shelf of leadership books

Over the next six weeks, I’ll be sharing six different ideas that will move you to or keep you as a top gun in your organization. I call it the six-by-six plan. Do these six things every week and in some cases every day:

–       Read

–       Listen

–       Learn

–       Exercise

–       Pause

–       Serve

And then repeat them regularly for the rest of your career.

Week 1 Read:

If you desire to be at the top of your game professionally, commit to regularly reading. Don’t become like the 23% of Americans who didn’t even read one book in 2021.

If you’re new in your reading journey, you might try this:

Every year, read at least six business books related to your field each year along with six other books that have nothing to do with your career.

Earlier this year I decided to re-read some of my all-time favorite, most impactful business books rather than reading anything new – at least in the short term.

If you are like me, you’ve unlikely mastered everything in the first few readings of your favorite books. Some on my list to re-read include The Tipping Point, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Never Split the Difference, Atomic Habits, and classic favorites I read early in my young adult life – The Magic of Thinking Big and How to Win Friends and Influence People. Each of these books will provide further insight each time you read them. Similarly, A Tale of Two CitiesThe Hobbit, and To Kill A Mockingbird are some of my fiction favorites and books that everyone should read at least once. Consider making one of your six non-business books a literary classic.

 As an avid reader for most of my professional life, I have noticed what you have likely noticed as well – business book themes are quite repetitive. So if you’re like me, maybe your reading strategy needs a facelift. If so, you might try this:

Read at least six books that make your brain hurt – books that you might not otherwise read. Read books on philosophy, religion, academic books, scientific books, or books on anthropology.

In my professional circles, I’ve noticed the tendency to gravitate toward the same business books – the current or recent bestsellers. If you desire to look like, sound like, act like, or lead like everyone else, keep reading what everyone is reading. Reading those books only expands an increasingly commoditized business landscape. Stop asking people in your profession about book titles or refrain from using the New York Times or Wall Street Journal bestseller list as your reading list. Here are some alternative approaches to consider:

Try reading Aristotle, Aquinas, or Plato (click here for a list of 20 of the greatest philosophers and their big ideas)

Read the writings of our founding fathers. Search for concepts, ideas, and insights from your reading and deeply ponder their relevance in your organization

Ask for book suggestions from people for whom you might not typically solicit book suggestions. For example, ask a history professor, a counselor or therapist, your doctor, a successful athletic coach, a landscaping company, your plumber, a pastor or priest, or your hairstylist. Chances are you’ll hear titles that you would never have found on your own.

Mix it up. Reading books out of your normal interest could very well inspire some new thoughts and ideas you had never considered. Read books that fascinate others and see if you might become fascinated as well.

Whether you are reading business, philosophy, or fiction, take notes on the interesting ideas or concepts you read. Since there can be learning from all types of books, meet with your team – you guessed it – at least six times per year to share your insights. If you are reading classic fiction books, the ideas for discussion could include the creative use of imagery, character development, lessons from the protagonist, or the juxtaposition of two contradicting ideas. If you are reading a business book, contact the author and ask for or help create 3-5 questions per main idea to discuss with your team. If you are reading a brain-busting book, isolate a key concept or main idea for your team to contemplate in your work environment. For example, you could read the works of a philosopher like Marcus Aurelius, who wrote:

“Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

I think there are lessons applicable to our professional lives in that quote – particularly that last line.

Try reading the big ideas of one of the top 20 philosophers in the link above. Then dive into the meaning of one of their big ideas. See if you relate it to the goals of your team, a new product idea, or a way to serve your customers in the highest possible manner.

We are in danger of losing our competitive edge as we drift toward sameness. Reading and thinking about unique content can distance your organization from your competition, create loyal members, clients, or customers, and reduce the predictable practice of copying everyone else.

With daily discipline, you can easily combine these ideas to read six business books as well six brain-busting books. Make sure along the way to consider reading other books strictly for pleasure or for a diversion from the books that make your head spin.

Perhaps it’s time to clear off your nightstand, take the books off your desk (and dust underneath them), and dive into a book. It’s time to read.

Smelling roses can lead to innovation

Are you taking time to smell the roses? Recently I had the opportunity to work in a stunningly beautiful location. Because I have worked with this client several times, I was taking the scenery for granted. I took the above picture of my stunning view and sent it to my company’s marketing director with the tagline – “My office this afternoon“. My INTENT was to work on some creative projects in a place that would likely help inspire me. However, I never even got my toes in the sand. I got caught up in other time-intensive tasks. While they were important and arguably necessary, I certainly could have made some time to ponder, think, and reflect. It’s almost impossible to develop new ideas or innovations if our scenery never changes.  Because I have worked with this client several times, I have been taking scenes like this for granted.

Take time this week, no matter how small of window you have, to find a place that inspires you to have reflective time to think deeply. Be still, and let your creativity simmer. In addition, consider taking one or more of the following actions:

– Block out an entire day (or even a half day if that is all you can find) to think about a solution to a problem or to ponder a new idea

– Read a new book that challenges an assumption you have or one that causes your mind to be stretched

– Book a day outing or weekend trip that involves something you have never before experienced

– Instead of making a quick decision on a complex problem, take a walk in a beautiful environment and let your subconscious brain go to work on a solution 

The wise philosopher I. M. Anonymous once said, “If you always do what you have always done, you’ll always get what you have always gotten”.  Step out of your comfort zone and make time, space, and silence for a new discovery or to solve a problem you have been pondering.