In today’s post, I want to focus on the acquisition of knowledge gained through reading. While there are certainly numerous other ways to learn (experience, classroom instruction, digital learning, etc.) I am a huge fan of the benefits of professional development gained from good old-fashion reading. Someone once said “you are what you read” and while I think there is far more to the equation of our individual make-up than our choice of reading material, there is also an element of truth contained in the aforementioned quote.

If I told you how much time I spend reading and researching you probably wouldn’t believe me, but suffice it to say, I am a voracious reader. I subscribe to online clipping services, use RSS feeds to scour news groups, forums, and the Blogosphere, usually have at least two books going at any one time, as well as reading a variety of industry publications and periodicals. That being said, I’m always amazed at the number of executives who don’t keep up with their professional reading.

Here is a telling observation According to surveys conducted by our leadership development practice, a very large common denominator shared by executives who feel that they are not achieving the level of success they feel capable of, is that many of them are “too busy to keep up with their reading”, Hmmm Furthermore studies show that active readers are likely to have annual incomes more than 3 times greater than those who spend little or no time reading.

Reading should not be something that is done when you’re bored, or has nothing better to do, rather it needs to be incorporated into your daily regimen. I have personally worked with literally hundreds of C-suite executives and without question, the most successful professionals are those that constantly seek out learning opportunities and who are voracious readers. They realize the importance of learning and make reading a priority. Think of the business leaders that have had the biggest positive impact in your life and I’m sure you’ll find that these individuals were in constant search of new and better information. They use the information acquired through reading in order to inspire, motivate, and lead those around them.

The question is not if you should be reading, but rather what should you be reading? With the plethora of reading material on the market today, it is not a simple thing to make sure that you’re covering all the bases in a time-efficient fashion. Therefore the following tips were designed to help you get the most out of your reading while maintaining efficiency in your reading efforts:

Books: You should always be engaged in the reading of at least one book on professional development. Since I can’t speak to the individual needs of our readers in this forum I am simply going to recommend what I believe are the 3 best general business books authored over the past 5 years. These books can have an immediate impact on the way in which you think about, and conduct business. If you haven’t read them start here:

  • The Attention Economy” authored by Accenture consultants Thomas Davenport and John Beck. This book delves into the critical importance of understanding both sides of the attention equation: “getting and holding the attention of information-flooded employees, consumers, and stockholders, and on parceling out their own attention in the face of overwhelming options. The resolution: learn to manage this critical yet finite resource, of fail.
  • The World Is Flat” authored by three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times journalist Thomas L. Friedman. This book begins with a historical view of the world which leads to riveting and perceptive conclusions based upon both the macro and microeconomic effects of globalization, and what it will take for a business to achieve and maintain success in the rapidly changing global economy.
  • Blue Ocean Strategy” authored by INSEAD professors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. This book argues the premise (and successfully so in my opinion) that tomorrow’s leading companies will succeed not by battling competitors in overly competitive markets for thin margins (bloody “red oceans”) but by creating “blue oceans” of uncontested market space ripe for growth.
  • Okay, I know I said I was only going to give you three books, but I can’t resist plugging my new book “Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual“. If you’re a senior executive looking to improve your leadership skills and business savvy, then this book is written for you.

Periodicals, Trade Publications, and Industry Journals: Again, not being able to address the specific needs of each reader, you must make your own choices here as well. However being aware of industry trends, competitive positioning, who the thought leaders are, etc. are all critical to your success. Pick the top couple of publications in your industry, sector, vertical or micro-vertical, and pour-over the content looking for opportunities to exploit. Most print publications now also have Internet versions or digital newsletters that can be subscribed to as well. I typically always have a print copy of a periodical in my briefcase, one on my nightstand, and several in my office. My favorite general business publications are The Economist, Chief Executive, Fast Company, Business 2.0, and Wired.

Digital Media (Blogs, Forums, News Groups, News Portals, Clipping Services, and other aggregators): Select an appropriate cross-section of all of the aforementioned options. What I particularly like about this genre is that it is often “real-time” information as opposed to other mediums that have a built-in latency factor.  Another benefit is that much of the content produced in this medium is not from the typical industry pundits, but rather true “in the trenches” thought leaders that see things coming long before journalists report it in the news, or the so-called gurus publish it in their latest book. This medium has been my preferred reading choice for a number of years now because it is extremely productive and time-effective. I subscribe to these venues because I’m able to be “pushed” content that I’ve asked for in a medium that I enjoy. If you are not a heavy consumer of online information you are truly missing the boat

Personal Reading: Read whatever you enjoy personal development, spiritual reading, fiction, etc. However, keep in mind that it does little good to feed your brain if you’re not feeding your soul first. I’m not going to preach, and I realize that our readers have different religious preferences, so you decide what reading material should fall into this category. I’m also not going to tell you how much time you should allocate to this category, but I would suggest you ponder what is truly important in life and make your investments where they will pay the biggest dividends.

I hope these thoughts have helped you rekindle your interest in reading, and that you’ll make the necessary changes to your schedule which will allow you to reap the many benefits described above…