Someone once coined the phrase, “Readers are leaders” and it set me thinking about whether that was indeed so. According to the online research I did, the average American only reads one book a year. Worse than this is the fact that 60% of us only get through the first chapter of that one book!
There are also some interesting studies online to suggest there’s a high correlation between the level of someone’s earnings and the number of books they read a year.
In contrast, research suggests that CEOs of Fortune 500 companies read an average of four to five books a month — yes, a month!!!! Even more impressive is that some of the most successful leaders throughout history were known to read one book every single day! I guess people in the past were able to get more books read without the allure of the online streaming services we have now, and the magnetic pull of the perpetual doom scroll on social media.
Someone also once said, “Wisdom is the application of knowledge,” and I’ve found there are leaders who KNOW and DON’T DO, and those who DO THE RIGHT THING because of what they KNOW.
To amplify my point — I’ve worked with leaders who voraciously read dozens of books each year on leadership, professional development and organizational psychology but they didn’t apply what they’ve learned. Conversely, I’ve worked with leaders who read far less, but yielded much better results for the organization that paid them. It seems that some leaders read to puff themselves up by enhancing their knowledge whereas others do read, but do so, to be of greater service to those they lead.
Case in point — a friend recently shared with me about a new CEO who joined their organization as a result of the retirement of his predecessor. Neither my friend nor I have any insider knowledge as to how many books this new CEO reads a year but from what my friend shared with me, he seems to have missed out on a few pages of effective leadership.
My friend was in the elevator with some of her direct reports — a number of minimum-paid employees with special needs. The new CEO stepped into the elevator and didn’t even offer a “good morning” to my friend or these special people she was with. Instead, he just flitted his attention between his cellphone and the couple of mid-managers who were bustling around him giving him a quick tour of the facilities in which most of the employees worked.
Yes, it seems like this CEO had chosen not to apply the knowledge he’d surely heard at some point about vitally important subjects such as: servant leadership, emotional intelligence (EQ) and interpersonal effectiveness.
As my friend retold this story my mind went back to a place I worked where we had an interview process of being inquisitive about how the interviewee interacted with the receptionist when they arrived. What observations were made about the applicant’s behavior in the lobby area? Did they hold the door open for others? Did they smile? Were they polite? Did they use those two commonly heard and yet commonly unused words: “Please” and “Thank you”?
When I became a teenager, my parents gifted me a framed copy of Rudyard Kipling’s poem titled “If,” and all these years later, three stanzas from that poem still resonate with me as I think about wisdom being the application of knowledge:
“If… you don’t look too good, nor talk too wise… if you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue…. or walk with kings — nor lose the common touch…”
It may be true that “readers are leaders” but I’d say the ones worth following and the ones who stay and make a significant difference — rather than just hop from one gig to another — apply what they learn even if they’re the king or queen of the organization.
Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaftd.com). For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].