A few weeks ago I read a great blog entry from someone I follow on Twitter (@johnwcoleman). Here’s a link to this posting, about 11 books that every young leader must read: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/10/11_books_every_young_leader_mu.html. Why does his list have eleven books instead of a more standard ‘top ten’? I can only assume his reasoning runs along these lines: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbVKWCpNFhY.
I have not read all of these books – although his list does include three books I have found quite useful (including Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that I blogged about following Covey’s death a couple of months ago). John’s list is crafted for young people embarking on professional careers in business and finance, and I appreciate the breadth of books he draws upon in creating this list. Here’s what he says about the set of books he put together: “I tried to compile a list that includes history, literature, psychology, and how-to. Variety is important — novels can enhance empathy; social science and history can illuminate lessons from other times and fields that might be relevant to your own; and at the very least, reading broadly can make you a more interesting conversationalist. But I have tried to make all the choices directly relevant to young businesspeople interested in leadership.”
Although my current role focuses on software development, my academic and professional background has nurtured in me a great love of reading. There are usually several books on my nightstand at any given time (here’s what I have there now: http://amzn.to/SFNsIU, http://bitly.com/PV7Qcj, http://bitly.com/SnbgD2 ) and I keep a backlog of roughly a dozen books on my shelf so I will always a have a new book at hand when I finish one that I’ve been reading. I read novels, poetry, biography, philosophy, theology, theoretical physics, comic books, and business literature. I read things from different time periods, different countries, and different genres – and in addition to the 20-30 books I read each year I also listen to another 15-20 books on CD during my daily commute.
Rather than suggesting my own list of 10 (or 11) books that I think are highly worth reading, I want instead to encourage you to read different types of books. If you spend very little time reading anything beyond news headlines and magazine articles, stretch yourself with a few books a year. Here’s what I try to do.
Read at least one biography/autobiography annually. I have enjoyed biographies of Alexander Hamilton, Lyndon Johnson, and John Lewis in the past few years and I find that I learn a lot reading about the successes and failures of other people.
Read at least one book in your professional field every year. Staying current on the latest trends in technology, finance, marketing, medicine, investment, or whatever field you work in is a good way to stay sharp in your career.
If you are or hope to be a leader, read at least one book on leadership or strategy every year. The leadership industry churns out dozens of books with limited insight, but there are also a few gems published every year to go along with the many great books written in the past.
Read one of the classics. You know the ones – those ‘great’ books you were supposed to read in college (or high school) but didn’t get around to before the exam, or the ‘seminal’ works in your field that everyone talks about but lots of people have never actually read. In most cases there is a reason these books are considered classics. They have not merely withstood the test of time (although books that people still read centuries after they were written are often worth reading yourself); these works of fiction, history, poetry, strategy or other disciplines represent well written and important contributions to the way major thinkers look at the world.
Read something you want to know more about. Maybe there was a subject you wished you had studied in college (this book on theoretical physics in one of those for me: http://amzn.to/SeiLNB ), maybe it’s a topic you heard about in the news, or maybe it’s something a friend or coworker mentioned that sparked your curiosity. Sharpen your brain by learning new things and experience the joy of fresh discoveries.
Read something just for fun. Hopefully something in the previous five types will have been fun, but make sure you read something every year just because it’s enjoyable. I read spy novels, comic books, short stories, and light-hearted memoirs for fun while your tastes may run in other directions. But find something enjoyable to spend a cold winter afternoon or a sunny week at the beach reading just because you like it.
Have any book suggestions you want to share here? By all means put them in the comments or send them to me on twitter (@asbiv). If you can find time to read even six books a year you will gain great pleasure and insight over the course of your professional life. I know that finding the time to read that much can be challenging in the midst of everything else you do but it will be worth it; in truth it’s not that simple, but the rewards from doing even this amount of reading are well worth the effort it takes.