Leaders Are Readers

Leaders are Readers! 

This article was written by Jim Busch.

Recently I was invited to speak at the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.  The event was held at a nature center in the Badger State’s beautiful north woods.  Theoretically I was there to impart my knowledge of advertising to the group  but, as always, I felt that I was the person who was doing most of the learning.  The motivational speaker Charlie “Tremendous” Jones likes to say, “In five years  you will be the same person you are today except for the books that you read and  the people you meet,” and my experiences with the WNA bear this out. After a  full day of training, I spent a delightful evening sitting around a campfire talking  advertising with a group of WNA members. The friendly people seated on the  benches and logs under the starry Wisconsin sky represented hundreds of years  of experience in advertising and publishing. This casual conversation was the  functional equivalent of a university “master class” in advertising. As is usually  the case when a group of successful people gather, the conversation turns to books.  

Successful people are often described as “self-made” men or women. I think it  is more accurate to describe them as “self-making” people because one of the things that makes them rise above their peers is their dedication to constant self improvement. In some of my training classes, I have had people with over fifty  years of experience in the industry (No pressure there!). These are people who  never settle, who are never satisfied, people who always want to grow and become  better at what they do. They listen attentively, and when they have an opportunity  they seek out training, and most of all, they read.  

Reading is what I like to call an “N.P.E.” activity-“No Possible Excuse!.”  While we all can’t get a Harvard MBA, or be mentored by Warren Buffett,  we can all read the books written by the Harvard Business Review or Buffett.  Reading provides unequalled ROI. A minimal investment of time and money  in books pays huge dividends in enhanced professional skills, improved results  and job satisfaction. With the availability of books from libraries or at bargain  prices from online retailers, anyone can afford to polish their professional skills.  During career coaching sessions I have had people tell me, “I don’t have time to  sit around reading. I’m far too busy.” When I question them further, I usually find  that they find time to watch mindless reality TV programs or to gossip around  the office copier. People always seem to find the time for activities that they  enjoy. Successful people enjoy being masters at their chosen profession which is  why they find the time to read. For many years, I would arrive at the office early  allowing myself time to read a chapter in a good business book. During my career  I spent a lot of time driving, so I consider myself a graduate of what Zig Ziglar  called “Automobile University.” Over the years, I’ve listened to hundreds if not  thousands of books on cassettes, CD’s and now downloads in the car. 

The most successful people in any line of work are true scholars of their profession.  They expose themselves to a wide variety of books related to their field. 

In addition to books on sales or management techniques, there is much to be  gained from reading biographies of successful people, motivational works and  books on business in general. I have found keeping up with the latest advances in  psychology is particularly valuable for sales people and managers. As with any  other worthwhile activity, the more work you put into reading, the more you will  benefit for it. When the author makes a point, pause in your reading and reflect  on what you’ve just read. Think about it and ask yourself, “How can I use this?  How does this apply to me?” I also ask, “does this make sense to me?”  Taking time to ponder what you’re reading and combining it with the practical  knowledge you’ve gained on the job allows you to constantly polish your skills.  

When I am finished with a good book, there are dozens of yellow post-it notes  sticking out of its margins. These flags mark points I want to remember and  consider further. I record many of these ideas in a journal I use to stimulate my  thinking whenever I run into a challenge or a sales slump. This practice helps me  to retain what I read and provides me with a database I can draw on at will. I have  had situations when I was stumped on a call or in a meeting where Zig Ziglar  or Harvey MacKay popped out of the back of my brain to give me a hand.  Our lives and our careers are like a long journey, reading “packs our bags” so  we have everything we need to get where we want to go and to enjoy the trip. 

When I get together with business colleagues, we always share the titles of  books that we have found to be interesting and useful. I returned home from  Wisconsin with several additions to my reading list. What follows are some of  the books which I found to be useful in my career. Some of these books are  classics, some are even out of print but still readily available, others are relatively  new but offer valuable insights. While this list is far from comprehensive,  these are all books which I found helpful to me. 

🕘 Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl—This book tells the story  of Frankl’s imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp. It is an inspiring  story of how he rose above his circumstances. This book is frequently  referenced by many other authors and motivational speakers. 

🕘 As a Man Thinketh by James Allen—As you can tell from the archaic  language used in the title, this book has been around for more than a  century. It has remained in print since it was first published in 1902 and is  still one of the best books on the power of maintaining a positive attitude. 

🕘 How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie—Another  classic that is as valuable today as it was when it was originally published.  Once “required” reading for all business people, this book is often neglected  today. It is still one of the best works on working with people. Carnegie also  authored the Quick and Easy Way to Effective Public Speaking and How to  Stop Worrying and Start Living both of which are well worth reading.

🕘 Managing by Hal Geneen—Published in 1984, this book is out of print  but available online. A good basic treatise on the art of management and  the importance of paying attention to details.  

🕘 The Effective Executive-the Definitive Guide to Getting Things Done by  Peter Drucker—Drucker was one of America’s leading business thinkers  for seven decades. This is the best known of his many books. Reading  Drucker is an excellent way to train yourself to think like a manager.  For many years, I started my day by reading an entry in the Daily Drucker. 

🕘 It’s Okay to Be the Boss, a Step-By-Step Guide to Becoming the Manager  Your Employees Need by Bruce Tulgan—A much more recent book on  management. This is a great read for both new and experienced managers.  Tulgan’s principles are designed to increase a leader’s effectiveness while  reducing their stress level. 

🕘 The One Minute Manager (Series) by Ken Blanchard—These books  are all short, easy to read and deliver a powerful message. The books in  this extensive series are written in novel form which makes them very  engaging and easy to comprehend. I gave many copies of The One Minute  Salesperson to my reps as part of their sales training. I found The One  Minute Manager Builds High Performing Teams and The One Minute  Manager Meets the Monkey particularly valuable. (the “Monkey” refers  to problems which your staff tries to palm off on you and how to get that  “Monkey” off your back and onto theirs where it belongs)  

🕘 How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life by Alan Lakein— This book is one of the best books ever written on the subject of time  management. He suggests that his readers constantly ask themselves,  “What is the best use of my time…Right Now!”  

🕘 See You at The Top by Zig Ziglar—One of Zig’s best. Ziglar was  “the” trainer and writer for a generation of sales people. His books are  packed full of practical wisdom written in his signature folksy style.  Though written decades ago, Ziglar’s books still have a lot to offer.  I highly recommend that you listen to the audiobook editions of his  books because Ziglar’s energetic and enthusiastic style is guaranteed  to motivate and excite the listener. 

🕘 Little Red Book of Selling by Jeffrey Gitomer—Gitomer is another  prolific author of books on selling and leadership. Within the first few  paragraphs, the reader of any of his books will realize that Gitomer  is the “real deal.” His books demonstrate his experience and his clear  understanding of the selling process.

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🕘 Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy—Ogilvy was one of the  original “Mad Men.” This book as well as his earlier Confessions of an  Advertising Man and The Unpublished Ogilvy which was published after  his death provide a tutorial on advertising by one of the most successful  practitioners of the art. 

🕘 Purple Cow by Seth Godin—Seth Godin is one of the leading thinkers  of marketing in the digital age. His books discuss presenting your ideas  in a way that makes them “remarkable” so that they will stand out in a  cluttered media environment. 

🕘 How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer—Making use of the latest advances  in neuroscience, this book reviews how human beings make decisions.  This information has a direct application to sales as it provides information  on developing persuasive arguments for advertising. 

🕘 Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman—Another great book on the  inner workings of the human mind. This book discusses the relationship  between the conscious and unconscious minds. An instructive book for  salespeople who want to fully engage their prospects and customers. 

🕘 Drive the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink— This book takes a fresh look at motivating our employees and customers  to do what we wish them to do. Making use of the latest research into  human behavior this book refutes many age old assumptions on what  makes people “tick.” 

🕘 Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen M. Covey—This is one  of my favorite books. Covey’s book lays out a plan for personal effectiveness  that can enhance one’s personal as well as professional life. I reread this  book from time to time and each time I discover a new idea or insight.  

Mark Twain once said that, “The person who does not read good books has no  advantage over the person who cannot read them.” Today’s business environment  is highly competitive and to succeed we need to constantly improve our skills  and our knowledge. The most effective way to maintain our competitive edge  is to read widely and deeply, filling our minds with the information we need  to inform and persuade our clients. While this is not a difficult task, it does  require an investment of time. Committing to a daily business reading regimen is  absolutely the best way to “turn a new page” in your career.

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