Leaders Read and Readers Lead – Ultimate Guide For Why and How to Read More Books

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“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” – Harry Truman

Last year I read 50 books, and this year I’m on pace to read over 100. That may sound like a lot, but the real goal is to get closer to 300 a year.


And if you normally read less than 10 books a year, you may also be wondering- how??

As with most things, the why is a formative part of the how.

There are a few obvious reasons for wanting to read more. It makes you smarter, exposes you to more perspectives, makes you more analytical, more empathetic (hint: don’t ignore fiction), and gives you a competitive advantage.

The best leaders are known to be great readers.

“I just sit in my office and read all day.” – Warren Buffet

When asked how to get smarter, Buffett once held up stacks of paper and said “read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest” (Farnam Street).

Most of us do not realize that we are actually ‘knowledge workers’ who operate in an information economy. Not sure if that description fits you? Put it this way – if the only work you do with your hands is on the computer, you are most likely a knowledge worker. And you need to work on honing your craft.

In some cases we delude ourselves into thinking we’re smarter than ever before. If we come across something we don’t know, we simply Google it or search it on Wikipedia. A few articles and short videos later, we have a functional level of knowledge about a subject. The problem is, everyone is able to rapidly acquire this level of knowledge. That means there is no longer anything differentiating you from millions of others. The ability to access information is no longer rare.

What is rare, however, is the ability to develop new insights. This requires deep thought and contemplation. It requires the ability to go many levels deeper than the superficial (or functional level) that many are content with. If you can go deeper on ideas, and cross-pollinate those ideas with other ones to create new insights – all of a sudden you have made yourself infinitely more valuable. A lot of people simply don’t read. Many of them don’t read a lot. And even fewer read with the intention of leading and uncovering insights, applying them, and developing new perspectives. The rarer the skill, the more valuable it is.

“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

We’ve all heard the saying that with age comes wisdom. Yet, we all know plenty of people who have aged but have not grown. You can show up to work daily and perform the same task – you might become a bit more efficient, but without intentional effort you will not grow. To maintain the discipline of reading, you must tie it to a higher purpose – becoming a better version of yourself.

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” – Charlie Jones


This post is not for inspiration. It’s for creating a system that helps you commit to your own development whether you feel like it or not.

1. Trade-offs.

We all have time, the real question is what we allow our time to be dedicated to. The big theme of reading more is summarized by the key word intentionality.

Pick what you will give up to commit to your own development. Is it replacing 1 hour of TV every night? Maybe it’s giving up listening to music while commuting. Become intentional with the choices you make about how you spend your time.

The most effective trade off I have found for reading more is cutting down on social media time. We all habitually hit that spot on the screen where our Facebook icon is multiple times a day. Don’t deactivate your account, but just delete the app from your phone. Put a Kindle app in its place and read a couple of pages whenever you get a chance. Steal time when you are waiting or bored (i.e. most times you mindlessly pull out your phone).

2. Read Multiple Books at Once.

A big mental barrier to reading is not being in the mood to read. Or more accurately, it’s not wanting to read a particular book at a particular time. I’m often in the middle of 5+ books at once. I have different books sitting on my desk within immediate reach, different books at my bedside, and different books on my Kindle app.

3. Don’t Stress The Hacks.

This is a weird one, but it is one I struggled with. There was a period of time where I tried to learn to speed read and figure out different hacks for how to read more quickly. I wanted to figure out the optimal way to process a book. This created more stress than it was worth and hindered me from the ultimate goal – reading more.

Push yourself to read, but don’t push yourself to be a speed reader. Enjoy it. Process it naturally. Your goal is growth, development, and learning – not sprinting through as many as possible.

With that said, there is one exception. Audiobooks. This is a great way to plow through material while taking a walk or working out. I recommend using Audible because it will actually sync with a Kindle version of your book so you can alternate back and forth without having to worry about where you are.

4. Seek Out the Major Insights (and Be OK With Not Finishing)

The greatest thing about a book is that someone is pouring their entire life’s worth of expertise on something into an in-depth book – one that you can purchase for $10. Be on the lookout for what major insight you can glean from the book. You don’t need to worry about retaining every important factoid or tip. Look for the major lessons that you can apply.

This is the realization that helped me become ok with not finishing every book I read. Sometimes it just won’t resonate. If that is the case, don’t force yourself through it. There are dozens of other books on similar topics you can go to. Some books will be relevant to you for just a specific chapter or two. It is still worth it to buy the book in this case and get what you need.

5. Have A System.

I’m always interested in how others read books, but there is not a one size fits all solution. You need to experiment with what works best for you.

When I read a book, I mark it up liberally. I will be constantly underlining and highlighting things. I will write out notes in the margins – usually summarizing a take-away, or making a note of how this material connects with something else.

Each time I mark a major insight, I write the page number and a quick one line summary of it in the front of the book. This creates a custom index I can always refer back to later.

Start reading more and “you’ll be the person that people now ask: How do you do it? And the answer will be: I just do (Ryan Holiday).”

“My alma mater was books, a good library…. I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.” -Malcolm X

Here’s an example of a system in action.

Ramit Sethi was asked, “You’ve famously rolled eyes at people who ask whether it’s worth their time/money to read [Insert any book title here]. It’s a no brainer that reading good books is worth the time and money. But how do YOU decide what to read NEXT? Surely you’ve got a long list of book recommendations from friends and colleagues (or even better, a stack of books you’ve bought but haven’t read yet). How do YOU decide which one goes to the top of the pile?”

His response,

OK, first, Ramit’s Book-Buying Rule: If you even think a book looks remotely interesting, buy it. So I buy them all. They’re all sitting on my Kindle or on my table

Most of the time, reading books isn’t time-sensitive, so I have these pockets of time where I can decide what to read. Like when I’m flying somewhere, I’ll open up my Kindle and decide what I feel like reading at that moment.

The really big change has been strategically adding pockets. For example, if you’re eating alone, that’s 15 minutes to read a book. If you’re getting ready in the morning, that’s time to play a podcast. Or setting time before you go to sleep to read. On Saturday mornings, I have a TO REVIEW calendar entry.

I don’t want this to seem over-structured. Sometimes I get to it, sometimes not. But it’s great to know those “pockets” are there when I’m ready.

This is how I read 2+ books a week!

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Comments 8

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  1. Aslmkm…I’m an eager reader but need guidance as to the right material . I will greatly appreciate recommendations.
    JazakAllahu Khair

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