Leading by reading | Effective leadership skills

Cliche title, right? It just happens that reading has a positive impact on one’s ability to lead, but why? So, let’s explore how and why reading is the start to effective leadership skills.

Developing effective leadership skills.

Through reading, we as humans, are capable of developing our own understanding of new and perhaps foreign concepts. First and foremost, we use reading to develop our capabilities as high school students and scholars. So, why should the benefits of reading stop as soon as we finish our degrees or high school educations?

Researchers are repeatedly presenting evidence which suggests that we can be better human beings by reading. A recent study shows that literary fiction increases the reader’s ability to emphasise with others. Having a stronger capability to demonstrate empathy is probably also likely to make you a leader who understands the issues faced by their followers.

I conducted research throughout this year with over 400 students and found that reading had a similar positive effect on a student’s ability to demonstrate leadership behaviours and attributes. Thus, we come to a point of view whereby effectively reading has an influence on who we are as people and who we are as leaders.

Whilst we all have busy lives, increased empathy and leadership capacities would be of significant benefit to progressing careers and personal lives. So, identifying a strategy whereby we can read regularly may be a way to increase and develop our own self-awareness, empathy and ability to lead.

What to read?

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” – Joseph Addison.

The big question is what reading is going to provide us with the highest value return or return of investment. After all, our time is precious. So, finding the right book to dedicate several hours to over the next few months could seem onerous. For this, I think it depends what you want to get out of the time investment. Is the plan to learn more about your industry whilst gaining leadership capacity? Or is it to find something to relax with after a hard days work? I find some books more challenging than others, and some require more brainpower.

So, if empathy is the plan… read anything and we’ll develop our emotional intelligence. However, classical literature such as To Kill a Mockingbird1984 or my personal all time favourite The Great Gatsby are suggested by some research to be of more benefit. But, regardless, any book will have a positive impact on improving the effectiveness of our communication skills and our leadership skills.

If the plan is to be a better leader, then add a leadership book to the collection of literature such as Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value (my preferred leadership style). Or a book on different human interactions such as Quiet by Susan Cain. For more, check out this list Top 10 books a leader should read.

What else?

I personally like to throw in the occasional ‘light read’ or ‘easy read’ for those days where I feel I should read something, but lack the energy or motivation to read anything serious like Jane Eyre. I live by the philosophy that it is better to read something, than read nothing. And realistically, by reading this blog you’re taking the first step.

Blogs tend to be a bit more of an ‘easy read’ and often have  useful insights from their author. So it doesn’t hurt to sign up to one or two that you consider are of benefit to you. For example, this one if you’re looking to develop effective leadership skills or even effective communication skills).

A few pages a day keeps the leadership doctor away? I’ll let you decide that. But, reading is, by far one of the most effective leadership skills you could develop.

Image by Kate Ter Haar.