3 Ways Reading Creates Effective Business Leaders

It’s that time of the year again: the air’s getting cooler, the nights are getting longer, and eager MBA students are starting another semester of business school.  And each new semester brings with it lots of MBA-related reading.  It can be easy to think that all that reading is tedious (for me, it takes away from watching football), but reading is an important part of MBA students’ development into future business leaders.  Don’t believe me?  Well I’ve got a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article by my side for support.

John Coleman recently published “For Those Who Want to Lead, Read” on HBR.  For all its potential benefits, the article doesn’t paint a rosy picture about the current state of reading.  Coleman writes that despite nearly 84% global literacy, people are reading (what he calls) “less deeply”.  The average person’s daily reading might only consist of a few magazine or internet articles.  In fact, less than half of the U.S. adult American population reads deep, challenging literature.

Ok, that may seem slightly alarming to some people, but in the grand scheme of things why does this matter?  We have greater access to information than at any other time in human history.  Plus, people are busy; they don’t have time to read like they used to.  Surely this lack of reading can’t be all that bad.  We can find whatever we need on the internet and we’re filling that time we’d normally spend reading doing other activities, right?

According to Coleman, reading less (both in quantity and in quality) is something we should definitely worry about.  And MBA students in particular need to take note.  Coleman states that reading deeply about a variety of topics can help aspiring businessmen and women develop into tomorrow’s business leaders: “Deep, broad reading habits are often a defining characteristic of our greatest leaders and [that reading] can catalyze insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness.”  Just look at Steve Jobs, one of this past decade’s greatest innovators.  He loved the English poet William Blake’s work, despite it having nothing directly to do with Apple or iphones.

Deep, broad reading can be a magical experience.  Not hocus-pocus magic, but magical in the sense that it can positively affect MBA students’ development into business leaders.  But how, you might be asking, can reading possibly help make someone an effective business leader?  Well I’m glad you asked; here are three rewards MBA students can reap through broad, challenging reading:

1.      Emotional Intelligence.  Reading a variety of authors about a variety of human experiences can help improve aspiring leaders’ empathy.  This characteristic is especially important when managing employees.  Effective managers must understand their employees’ motivations, needs, dreams, and challenges.  And they must understand how to employ those factors in ways that motivate and inspire their employees.  That can only come about through well-developed emotional intelligence and empathy for other people.

2.      Problem Solving.  Reading helps solve complex problems.  In today’s world, more and more parts of our lives are interconnected.  Business problems grow larger and more complex as more data gets recorded and the world continues to shrink.  For that reason, MBA students need to possess knowledge on a variety of people, places, subjects and ideas in order to develop effective solutions for challenging, global business problems.

3.      Networking.  This may sound strange, but broad reading can help with business networking, too.  Being well-read allows you to engage others in a variety of conversations about a variety of topics and make genuine contributions to those conversations.  It gives you small talk ammunition, and it even provides gift ideas you can get for business clients and partners.

These are only a few ways reading helps MBA students develop into effective leaders.  My second year in CSUF Mihaylo’s MBA program starts on Monday, and I know I’ll have lots of reading to do.  But I’ll continue to try and supplement my business reading with broad reading on other topics, in order to help myself develop into the best possible business leader I can be.

Need some inspiration for broad reading material?  Check out one of my favorite non-business books below:

What are your favorite non-business books?  Share your favorites in the comments section below or on Twitter @OrangeCountyMBA.  I’m always looking to add more reading material to my bookshelf!


2 Responses to “3 Ways Reading Creates Effective Business Leaders”

  1. 1 Emma Tameside October 2, 2012 at 3:22 am

    I’m actually quite glad I read this article. I’ve been spending quite a large amount of time recently reading over leadership based tips and hints. My problem is my communication skills, they are desperately lacking. I’m hoping to improve them though, I even invested in leadership skills, which I’m quite hopeful about.

    I do think Coleman’s right though, reading inspires thought, thought inspires action. That’s how I try to live my life anyway, and it’s usually worked so far.

    • 2 orangecountymba October 3, 2012 at 1:37 pm


      Thanks for your comments! Have you been investing in leadership skills in an effort to advance at work? I’m curious how effective you’ve felt the GrowthAccelerator program has been; do you feel like it’s helping you achieve the goals and develop the skills you want to obtain?

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