Leaders must constantly broaden their perspective to stay relevant
The number-one job of any leader is to become a lifelong learner. A leader cannot remain relevant unless he or she has something to give; without continuing growth, a leader has little new to give. All leaders are teachers and all teachers are readers. You must become a student/teacher in all of life in order to continue to grow and continue to lead effectively.
Reading is critical because it gives us access to the library of ideas. Our reading shouldn’t stop at the back page of The Wall Street Journal. Business lessons can come from unexpected places and can help us avoid numerous pitfalls. Anyone doing a cursory examination of leadership and leaders realize that almost all were voracious readers of a wide bandwidth of books and periodicals.
Failing to learn from others
My friend Peter Holt says that when it comes to our actions and ideas, “we’re all a slave to our own experience.” And if we don’t read, that’s true — and a tragedy.
We simply cannot learn enough through our own experiences to understand the world; we must learn from others. Reading allows us to learn how others have succeeded and failed. It opens us to new discoveries.
I have always encouraged the associates to read broadly — including newspapers, periodicals, new fiction, nonfiction and a heavy dose of literary classics, geo/political writings and metaphysical treatises.
Failing to understand what motivates others
I recently read Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche, by James Miller. Miller wrote about 12 famous philosophers’ lives and thought processes, tracing the evolution of philosophy from the ancient Greeks, who believed in living your philosophy, to later thinkers, who concentrated more on defining human behavior than on perfecting it — believing that understanding ideas was more important than putting them into practice.
I tend to agree with the earlier schools of thought. But it’s useful to know how Nietzsche, Montaigne, Rousseau and Diderot viewed the world and how their thoughts still shape people’s actions today.
One of my favorite books is The Pilgrim’s Progress–John Bunyan’s brilliant allegory that laid out his vision of Puritan morality. He wrote the book in the late 1600s while in prison for defying Charles II of England by having the temerity to preach as a “nonconformist” — the Anglican Church’s description of Puritans during the Restoration period. The book’s Christian message has inspired missionaries for more than 300 years. Aside from its groundbreaking importance as a piece of English literature, the book also asks the reader to stretch their imagination — after all, we no longer live under the tyranny of British monarchs, and Americans largely take their religious freedom for granted. Stretching the mind is critical for any leader. By understanding different viewpoints, we can avoid falling into the same ruts again and again while making decisions.
Failing to adapt
Did you know that a Kodak engineer invented the digital camera in 1975? Kodak filed for bankruptcy in January after nearly all of its film business had slipped away and it had fallen behind competitors in the digital camera market. What happened? The company failed to anticipate changes in the market.
The critical fissure in an organization often forms at the top. Many leaders fall back on old lessons and rely on old business models, and fail to see the ground shifting beneath their feet. They assume yesterday’s path to success is the same as tomorrow’s, which isn’t necessarily so. That’s why it’s critical for leaders to read, to seek out trusted advisors with different viewpoints, and to surround themselves with an executive team that can offer different experiences and ideas, and which is itself broadly read and eager for new knowledge — whether it comes from today’s newspaper, a 5-year-old textbook or a 300-year-old novel.
Reading, and surrounding yourself with other readers who are willing to exchange ideas, can protect you from becoming stagnant in your thought processes. That, in turn, can help protect your company against the threat of narrow-mindedness and the inability to adapt to the new challenges that it faces every day.
This topic is important enough to dedicate future blog articles. What literary tomes have been the most influential to your growth as a leader?
Tasti D-Lite chairman and CEO Jim Amos has more than 30 years of experience guiding successful franchise companies such as Mail Boxes Etc. He was inducted into the International Franchise Association’s Hall of Fame in February and is co-author of the newly-released book The Tasti D-Lite Way: Social Media Marketing Lessons for Building Loyalty and a Brand Customers Crave (McGraw-Hill).