During my career as a communications specialist working with CEOs and successful entrepreneurs around the world, I have come to one firm conclusion: Great leaders read many, many more books than the average person.
For example, retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis reads at least 100 books a year, nearly ten times the number of books an average American adult reads in the same time period. âI can tell you with full knowledge that by the time someone achieves the four-star rank as a full-fledged general or admiral, they are deep readers,â he says.
I caught up with Stavridis at the exit of his New York Times bestselling novel, 2034. Novelist is only his last title. Stavridis commanded combat destroyers, served as a Four Star Admiral and Supreme Allied Commander NATO. Today, he is an executive at the Carlyle Group and chief international security analyst for NBC News.
Stavridis doesn’t expect other leaders to read two to three books a week or amass a library of 4,000 books as his collection. But he urges aspiring leaders in any profession to read far more books – fiction and non-fiction – than others in their field.
According to Stavridis, there are three big reasons why the best leaders are voracious readers.
1. Books are simulators for the mind.
Stavridis says the books function as mental simulators, putting you in the middle of the events that the characters in the book face. So, when you read about characters in a novel or about real life heroes in non-fiction books, you should ask yourself: What would I have done in this situation?
Just over two decades ago, Stavridis prepared to take command of a Navy destroyer by reading Patrick O’Brian’s classic marine novels, starting with Master and Commander. It was also inspired by Steven Pressfield’s epic novel, Gates of Fire, on the Spartans who make the ultimate commitment to fight and die at the Battle of Thermopylae.
âAs you read this book, you can put yourself in their shoes, understand their motivations and ask yourself if I would have had the courage, commitment and honor to undertake this mission? “
2. Books provide perspective.
Successful leaders have a different perspective from others. Leaders who read history books or historical novels can apply lessons from the past to navigate contemporary events.
âBooks offer the possibility of having a wide variety of life experiences without leaving home or school,â says Stavridis. “How else can a budding young leader learn how Ernest Shackleton managed to save his entire crew after his ship,” Endurance, was crushed by ice and destroyed in Antarctica in 1915?
Thinking back to my reading life, many of the people I admire most deeply are known to me only through books, either by them or about them. “
3. Books improve writing and communication skills.
According to Stavridis, “Good leaders must be good communicators, and the hard work of writing is best honed on the whetstone of reading.”
In my own experience, CEOs and leaders who stand out as public speakers draw stories, quotes, and examples from the many books they have read. Although I read at least 50 books a year, these CEOs almost always teach me books that haven’t crossed my radar yet.
Simply put, people who read a wide range of books in the fiction and non-fiction categories have a wider and more interesting variety of stories to draw from. âThe essence of leadership is the ability to communicate and inspire and in order to do that you have to be a good speaker and a good writer,â says Stavridis.
Reading is the best way to learn and grow as a leader, adds the admiral. By adding more pounds to your daily routine, you will stand out as the person others want to follow.