Being an active reader is vital for leaders, professionals, and stoic philosophers alike—if we want to avoid making mistakes through trial and error.
- Ryan Holiday is one of the most respected living stoic philosophers and the bestselling author of Discipline Is Destiny: The Power of Self-Control.
- He says that reading is a necessity for leaders—whether they’re politicians, activists, generals, journalists, or business leaders—and that directing our focus in the right way is crucial for applying the lessons of what we read.
- To help this, he has created a course—The Read to Lead Challenge—that teaches strategies for how to turn the act of reading into actionable insights into life and leadership.
- “Not every reader is a leader, Harry Truman once observed, but every leader is a reader. You have to be,” Holiday says.
Why it’s Important
Leaders have a responsibility to carry others forward through challenging and sometimes even dangerous situations, and one of the most dangerous things we can do on that front is to approach the challenges of life through trial and error. Learning from others is the first step to helping others through your leadership.
“Being a leader means you’re going to bump into all kinds of situations you’ve never experienced before. You’re going to face problems for which there are no easy solutions. The good news is that no matter what challenge you’re facing, no matter how unique or how modern, you’re far from the first to encounter it. For roughly 5,000 years, human beings have been experiencing, solving, and, most importantly, writing books about these exact struggles,” says Holiday.
The process of building daily habits and retaining information can be difficult in the modern world for leaders who are faced with family and work requirements that chew up time. Holiday says though that fitting in reading time is more important for leaders than everyone else. Learning how to do it is a necessity.
“How you read matters. Are you taking notes? Are you integrating what you read? You’re not just filling shelves on the wall. You’re trying to learn so that you can lead … We should all direct the focus of our energy on books that will stay with us after we put them down,” he says.
“Good leaders have a ceaseless appetite for learning, for self-improvement, for wisdom, for books that improve you as a human being. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius prized the ability to ‘read attentively’—mostly philosophy texts—and used what he learned to reign masterfully over his domain. Malcolm X was transformed into a Civil Rights leader by the books he read during his time in prison, making his way through Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Essays of Schopenhauer, and Basic Writings of Kant, among others. When he was asked where he graduated from college, he would simply answer, ‘Books,’” says Holiday.