One of the leadership quotes that I have heard most often during my time in seminary is not from the Bible, but from Harry Truman, the 33rd president of the United States:
Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.
Most leaders, while from the outside appearing to have all the necessary knowledge, actually have an insatiable appetite for learning. And reading is one good way to curate that sort of lifelong learning. In the “Learning to Follow, Learning to Lead” project, the learning leadership competency is defined as being “persistent in ongoing and informal learning through reading, writing, and reflection.”
I read a Harvard Business Review Blog post by John Coleman a while back that explored—with links to lots of research—the relationship between reading and leadership. Here is a brief summary of the post, in John’s own words:
And history is littered not only with great leaders who were avid readers and writers (remember, Winston Churchill won his Nobel prize in Literature, not Peace), but with business leaders who believed that deep, broad reading cultivated in them the knowledge, habits, and talents to improve their organizations.
First, I’m astonished. I knew that Churchill was a Nobel laureate, but I would not have guessed that he won the Literature prize! Second, I want to focus on the idea of “deep, broad reading.”
Deep, broad reading is not just about how often one reads or how much is read, but what is read. I believe that the competency of learning leadership is about transformation: reading for transformation, writing for transformation, and reflecting on that transformation.
That’s why the question is not about the quantity of reading in and of itself. Sometimes, I confess, I spend too much time reading news-y stuff. I like to scour the depths of ESPN.com or The Wall Street Journal, sometimes for an hour or two. I enjoy it and it refreshes me (especially the sports), but this type of reading I consider reading for information. Let’s be honest, no matter how much I love reading about the best college basketball point guard in the country (UConn’s Shabazz Napier) or about why Greg Jennings has turned into the NFL’s newest diva receiver or about why accountants will save the world, none of that is particularly material that will effect personal or spiritual formation in my life.
Reading for information is about the quantity of reading; reading for transformation is about the content of reading.
It is on this point that I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Rev. Dr. Tim Brown, president of Western Theological Seminary. I am cultivating a new habit in my own reading, and I call it the “Tim Brown rule.” Dr. Brown has frequently shared with students this habit of his: for every book read from this century, he reads one from another century. (If you don’t know Dr. Brown, he is one of the best preachers of our generation.)
The Tim Brown rule is a worthy habit in and of itself, but I have added my own amendment. As pastors, it’s deceptively easy to read only pastoral and theological books; however, I have a conviction that we must read so much other than that. Business books, biographies, novels, poetry, and so on. In my own reading, my habit is for every theological book read, I read a book from a different (often “secular”) genre.
Reading for transformation also includes a recognition of global Christianity, that God’s children live in all the nations. To cultivate my own awareness of global Christianity and also to enrich my (ecumenical) understanding of the Triune God, I challenged myself to read at minimum of once per year a theological or pastoral book from a non-Western culture.
Anyway, all this is to say that my “to-read” booklist is long and only getting longer. But I’m a slow reader. Truly. And there are probably many great, transformational books that I won’t ever hear of.
So, what great books have you read lately? Leave some recommendations in the comments…
PASTORAL LEADERSHIP SERIES
Read the rest of the 10-part series on the practice of pastoral leadership:
- Pastoral Leadership (21 February 2013)
- Organizational Leadership (28 February 2013)
- Learning Leadership (7 March 2013)
- Public Leadership (14 March 2013)
- Collaborative Leadership (21 March 2013)
- Reconciling Leadership (28 March 2013)
- Resourced Leadership (11 April 2013)
- Sacramental Leadership (18 April 2013)
- Pastoral Leadership II (25 April 2013)
- Leadership Transition (2 May 2013)