photo of Lee DavisLeaders are readers
Lee Davis, Training & Organizational Development Consultant, Professional & Organizational Development

One morning in December 2016, I attended my first Strategic Leadership Program (SLP) workshop. As a newly hired member of Professional & Organizational Development, I was attending to appreciate the full SLP experience as a participant and as a future co-facilitator of, and contributor to, this award-winning program.

Ujima Donalson engaged every participant in the room as an extremely skilled facilitator, practitioner and peer. I was rapt! And then, there it was, the statement that would have a profound effect on me: “Leaders are readers,” Ujima proclaimed, and then once again, “leaders are readers!”

I’ve always been an avid reader, so Ujima’s proclamation resonated with me on a personal level and also prompted a seismic shift in perspective. Of course! Leaders are readers. Reading represents a quest for greater knowledge and understanding, a willingness to open ourselves up to different perspectives, and a veneration of lifelong learning and development — all of which are also keys to being a great leader.

Leaders may read to gain information, data, perspectives and insights to help them grow professionally and operate more effectively. Times change, needs change, and we, in turn, must also change. Currently, books like Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to be an Antiracist,” Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between The World and Me” have become almost permanent fixtures on bestseller lists as leaders seek to become more knowledgeable about diversity and equity and better equipped to foster inclusion in their own organizations.

Active reading

I believe leaders must be equipped to perceive similarities between different disciplines, draw parallels between opposing information, and see correlations between and amongst everything. Reading can help us hone this skillset if we truly “listen” to what we read. Most of us are familiar with active listening; we can also practice active reading, where we read in a manner that is open, alert, receptive and perceptive, where we are experiencing what we’re reading with our whole being.

This active reading process involves listening to and engaging with material to such a great extent that you are interpreting the information and then translating the information into something that resonates with you or that you feel a connection towards. What resonates or connects with you is based upon your individual experiences, barriers, filters and blind spots, and is influenced by your familial, societal and personal conditioning. It’s different for every person and it’s what makes your own reading experience strong, authentic and unique.

Reading people

People may not be as easy to read as books, but every person has a story to tell. Listening is an ancient art form that is seldom practiced well, and reading a person involves being able to be a great listener. Listening requires the whole of you to be involved. It goes beyond using your two ears; active or holistic listening requires you to put all of your being (mind, body, and spirit) in the moment (mindfulness).

The questions all leaders must ask:

Whatever your answers are, the person that you are reading can feel your authenticity and sincerity and that is where the platform of trust is established and relationships enhanced.

Keep reading ― always

Do we stop here with the reading process? Emphatically no! Leaders are readers and that is a lifelong pursuit. As we become masterful readers of everything ― books, people and situations ― we will become more connected to people and to the world around us. In turn, we will become more astute leaders who can compassionately guide our team to successful outcomes.

I mentioned a few exceptional DEI books above. In closing, I’d like to share a few more books from the SLP recommended reading list:

Summer 2020 | Return to Issue Home