Leaders are readers. Period.

I’ve learned from the world’s and history’s best because I have read what they’ve written.

I also view a commitment to developmental reading as a sign of professional maturity and ownership of your own development.

But this piece is not arguing why reading is important; I believe most of us acknowledge that already. If not, I encourage you to explore our Leaders Are Readers Series. Instead, we intend to explore how to do so better.

The reality is that we have so much competing for our time. It is challenging to balance the demands of life, work, and more – all while trying to find time to pour into our own development each day. We must be effective and efficient in our approach to reading to maximize its developmental impact. More is not better…nor feasible.

So, let’s look at a few ways that we can make developmental reading more impactful this year, both for ourselves and for others, because we also know that is an inherent leader responsibility.

6 Ways to Make Your Reading More Impactful

1. Discern What to Read

When I finally began to deliberately read for my own development, I initially had no idea where to start. I know that I needed to read, but I had no clue what to read. Simple online searches can be a way to find title recommendations, but there are much better resources today.

A key consideration when searching for what to read is to think on what subjects you should read. What roles are relevant to you in work and life? We cannot have a narrow horizon on what we read about. For me, I have several important roles in my life: Person of faith, husband, father, Army officer, engineer, and leader developer. So, I must explore great books to help me keep developing across all of these roles, not just one. Furthermore, the simple role of Army officer means I need to look into broader themes like war in the future, so it is pertinent for me to read about world trends, technology, science fiction, and so on.

So, we can first turn to professional & leader reading lists. Many professions, military entities, and leaders share lists of the books that helped shape them and think are relevant for others. These are great places to start, especially within your different roles. You can find some great professional reading lists on our Bookshelf and at DODReads.

Additionally, pay attention to recommendations from respected leaders. This can be formal, where leaders publish recommendations – both within your profession (for example, I look forward to MG Mick Ryan’s end-of-year list every year on MWI) or public figures (like Adam Grant’s book recommendations for the coming year) for diversity in ideas. But these can also be informal through personal recommendations or discussions (for me, I always pay attention to what Joe Byerly is reading).

There are lots of resources; just ensure we are sourcing from quality, relevant, and reputable sources to maximize impact.

2. 10 Pages a Day…Period

Just like the habit of investing small amounts of money for extended periods of time will yield exponential growth over time, the same can apply to our reading efforts. We don’t have to commit hours upon hours each week reading in order to make it successful.

But we must be disciplined and routine. So, start small by committing to at least 10-pages a day. Anything beyond that is bonus, but maintaining the daily habit is important to sustain continued development.

Find the best time of day to commit a few minutes to knock out 10-pages but do not go to bed until we complete 10 simple pages.

3. Two Books at a Time

I recommend we read two books at any given time: one physical book (hard-copy or digital like Kindle, whatever your preference) and one audiobook.

Audiobooks are great to engage in during times do are doing what I consider as “mindless activities.” For me, those are daily commute drives, washing dishes after dinner with the family, walking the dog, running, vacuuming the house, etc. There are lots of such opportunities each day, which can turn into rich developmental listening times.

If looking to try out an audiobook, I recommend Audible! They maintain the largest selection of books and are very easy to use.

4. Mark It Up

I always have two things with me anytime I open my book to read: a pen and a highlighter. I mark up my books extensively with quote and idea highlights and write reflections in the margins. It’s a way to maximize my learning from what I’m reading.

The issue is, though, what do I do with all those highlights and margin notes once I’m done with the book? How do I prevent those rich ideas from merely residing within the book when I put it back on the bookshelf after finishing it?

Some leaders I respect, like Ryan Hawk and Joe Byerly, argue we should look to re-read books routinely. By turning back to a book later down the road, we can try to make new sense of it based on our added experiences and learning. This can also be a way to keep those ideas relevant to us over time.

Personally, I elect to create a “book reflection journal.” After reading a book, I go back and type up all my highlights and margin notes into a Word document. I keep those documents in a consolidated repository (Dropbox for me to make it accessible via the cloud) and print them out where I keep them all in a binder. Then, I actually go back and review that binder twice a year to re-visit those ideas and try and make new meaning of them.

No matter your method, I challenge you to find the way that will work best for you to extrapolate the ideas and lessons from what you read, maintain them in some way, and re-visit them to keep them relevant in your life and leadership.

5. Engage in Post-Reading Reflection

It can be easy to finish a book and toss it back onto the bookshelf due to excitement over the upcoming title you will dig into. But how did this book impact you? Why did you read it, what does it mean to you now, and what are you going to do differently having read it? Its important to engage in some deliberate reflection after completing a book.

A model I use to think through what matters following a book is to ask three questions:

  • What?: What did I learn from this book, what resonated, and what matters?
  • So What?: Why do those things matter? How have they influenced my world view, leader behaviors, and mental models?
  • Now What?: What is changing in my life and leadership moving forward as a result? This targets the application of what I’ve learned.

6. Make it Contagious to Inspire Others

Part of a leader’s responsibility to maximizing the impact of reading is to spread the passion and habits to others. We must inspire others to assume this responsibility for themselves as well. One of the best and easiest ways I’ve seen to do this: Simply carry your book around during the day.

Merely carrying your book with you to meetings and throughout the day is, unfortunately, such an abnormal thing to see nowadays. Thus, it easily becomes a conversation starter with others. This can become an easy entry into sharing what you’re learning and piquing others’ interest in trying it out themselves.

Bonus. Establish & Maintain a System

Shortly after beginning my own reading pursuits, I quickly felt overwhelmed. I kept discovering more books that I wanted to read and didn’t know how to best maintain some “to-read” list, let alone a list of books I completed.

So, I turned to Goodreads to become my platform to manage my reading efforts. With an account on the website, I maintain different bookshelves, which begin merely as books read, currently reading, and to read. This helps me keep track of what I want to read and is an easy place to add new books I find.

Moreover, it is a social media-based platform where you can connect with friends and other users, being able to explore their bookshelves too. It’s a great way to find out what other people you respect are reading.

No matter the platform, Goodreads or not, creating a complete and sustainable system to manage your reading efforts is an important step in maximizing reading effectiveness, efficiencies, and ultimately impact.

Learn More!

If you would like to explore more on developmental reading and where to turn next, I recommend a few good resources!

Happy reading! Here’s to a year of impactful reading and learning.

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  1. Excellent article, excellent insight, and thank you for this incredibly helpful direction. I’ve long ago employed almost all of your recommendations which has exponentially increased my time-management and reading accomplishments. Always looking for more.
    Mike B.

    1. Mike, thanks for the encouraging/supportive words! Glad to know these resonate, especially with your own tested methods over time. Always open to other/new ideas not expressed here too. Thanks again. Take care. –Josh

  2. Thanks for another great article. I have a question for you… do you have any kind of system for “highlighting and writing in the margins” for audiobooks? I find audiobooks are the easiest and most accessible way to read, but also the hardest to draw takeaways.

  3. I found the app Bookly helpful for capturing quotes and thoughts from traditional books. Of course the highlighting and note taking function in Kindle are very helpful for ebooks if you use Kindle.

  4. Always Learning. Amateurs do it until they get it right. Pros do it until they can’t get it wrong.

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