Can Reading Make a Difference?

As officers in our program know, we feel that great candidates are always trying to learn more about the business environment. Periodicals and business books are great resources for staying in touch with corporate America. On occasion, I am asked whether there are practical reasons for reading books about business. I’d like to share 3 points that highlight the case for using a reading program to further your career.

The first point highlights a key factor in a successful interview. To receive an offer from a company as a business leader, you will need to prove that you are interested in a career in business. All the adjectives and emotion you bring into the interview will fall a little flat if a recruiter then asks,
“Wow, you sound really passionate about leading in a business organization, what was the last business book you read?”
And you answer, “Well, I haven’t really read any at this point.”
It is fine if you have no interest in reading books about business, but that should be a good indicator to you that a career in business leadership is not likely a passion either.

The second point highlights who you are up against. While some people feel that reading books on business leadership is not important to making a successful transition or being a leader, others who do  are using information and ideas from books to step up their performance. One of our candidates recently shared with me a story about issues he was having within his unit. His senior enlisted were very talented but did not work well together. He had his team read Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Lencioni) and using Lencioni’s concepts, over time his unit was able to form a “basis of trust” from which to work together. A few months later, his commander came to his office and asked him what he was doing within his team, explaining that he (the commander) was seeing performance issues in all of his units except the candidate’s. Our candidate gave the commander the book to read. Keep in mind that this officer is your “competition” for stratification on your evaluations; this is the candidate who will set the bar in an interview.

The third point is from a book I am just finishing called The Dumbest Generation (Bauerline). I picked up the book because the author is making a statement about your peer group, if you are a junior officer today. Professor Bauerline cites multiple studies linking decreased interest in reading with lower academic performance and intellectual skill rankings in the “Millennials” i.e. people born after 1980 but before 2000. He ties this drop in reading interest to the rise in interest in “screen-based” resources – TV, computers, cell phones, etc. As a junior officer, you are one of less than 3% of your generation who have decided to serve in a leadership position in the military. Part of your role as a leader is to ensure that your age group is developing the skills needed to help face the challenges of tomorrow. In his book, Professor Bauerline makes a pretty convincing connection between reading and learning. You can help make your generation, which happens to be the biggest ever in the U.S., the greatest generation – by being a great learner.

You don’t have to read, but great leaders always seem to find a way to make it part of their development. We will continue to encourage our candidates to use books as one of their leadership development resources.

Scott LePage