“Not every reader is a leader, but every leader is a reader.”
President Harry Truman is most often credited with this insight.
If you’re learning to lead, then reading is a big part of your learning journey. It’s been true for me. One of the earliest books that influenced my leadership was “Spiritual Leadership” by J. Oswald Smith. Over the years, I have purchased more than a few copies of that book and still recommend it today for the students in the graduate class I teach on leadership here at Kingswood University.
I have to admit that on occasion I will look through my library for one of my books only to discover that it is not there. More often than not, I eventually recall loaning it to someone else. Sometimes, there is a tinge of regret but my nobler instinct is to wish the reader well and hope that they are profiting from it, even as I did.
I recently had the rare but delightful experience of having one of those books returned. Sherry and I were visiting in the home of dear friends. After supper, I was admiring his collection of books, many of which are signed by their authors. As I was scanning the titles, I noted one and said “I have a signed copy of that book, too!”
My friend pulled it from the shelf, replying “Actually, I think this is yours.” He was right. We enjoyed a laugh together and I was reunited with a book that brought back good memories.
If you are a leader, you are a reader so perhaps you had a similar experience when you were so impacted by a book that you wanted to share it with another. Or perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end. Someone you respect says that you must read this book and they are so enthusiastic about it that they lend you their copy or even go so far as to buy one for you.
Dr. David Smith is a dear friend and colleague with whom I have had the privilege of working over the past 5 years at Kingswood University. Just the other day I found a short book on my desk with a gracious note from Dr. Smith. He was not just lending me his copy, he was giving it to me.
Dr. Smith knows that I am in the early stages of writing a book on John Wesley as a leader. You can’t study Wesley without knowing something of his relationship with George Whitefield. What Dr. Smith found intriguing about this book was the impact that George Whitefield said this book had on his life.
Not until I read the introduction to the book, written by J.I.Packer, did I discover Whitefield had received his copy of the book from his dear friend, Charles Wesley. Here Packer quotes Whitefield from one of his sermons preached in the last year of his life:
“…I must bear testimony to my old friend Charles Wesley; he put a book in my hands, called The Life of God in the Soul of Man, whereby God showed me that I must be born again…” (p.15)
Whitefield had been seeking God earnestly. Here is his own testimony to the lengths to which he had gone:
“When I was sixteen years of age, I began to fast twice a week for thirty-six hours together, prayed many times a day, received the sacrament every Lord’s day, fasting myself almost to death all the forty days of Lent, during which I made it a point of duty never to to less than three times a day to public worship, besides seven times a day to my private prayers, yet I knew no more that I was to be born again in God, born a new creature in Jesus Christ, than if I were never born at all…”
Whitefield credits reading this little book, passed along from a friend, as being instrumental in bringing him to an understanding and appropriation of new life in Christ. That newfound assurance inspired a confidence and passion to impact the world for the glory of God. And he did. Whitefield is cited as a catalytic leader in the Great Awakening in New England, and he and the Wesley brothers were the key leaders in the Methodist revivals that historians contend preserved England from the bloody revolution of France.
Not every book you pass along will so profoundly impact another person. But any book that was meaningful to you, could have an equal or even more significant impact on your friend.
There is no shortage of minimalist blogs that recommend the “Buy one, give one away rule.” So that can be your prompter. Before you buy that next new book, ask yourself which book on your shelf you think would be most helpful to someone you know, and pass it along. With that one step, you can simultaneously reduce your clutter and increase your influence.
For those of us (including me) who almost “love” our books, that may feel like abandoning your children. But a book loaned or given is never lost. If you can’t remember whom you gave the book to, you can always find another copy on www.Amazon.com!
Remember: Leaders are readers so keep reading impactful books and then pass them along to help others on their leadership journey!