There are so many ways to consume content these days. From YouTube videos to blogs, podcasts to tweets, many of us can satisfy our info fix in a myriad of ways. We know, though, that some of the greatest leaders of our time were avid readers. John Coleman, author of “For Those Who Want to Lead, Read” from Harvard Business Review wrote:
“Note how many business titans are or have been avid readers. According to The New York Times, Steve Jobs had an “inexhaustible interest” in William Blake; Nike founder Phil Knight so reveres his library that in it you have to take off your shoes and bow; and Harman Industries founder Sidney Harman called poets “the original systems thinkers,” quoting freely from Shakespeare and Tennyson. In Passion & Purpose, David Gergen notes that Carlyle Group founder David Rubenstein reads dozens of books each week. And history is littered not only with great leaders who were avid readers and writers (remember, Winston Churchill won his Nobel prize in Literature, not Peace), but with business leaders who believed that deep, broad reading cultivated in them the knowledge, habits, and talents to improve their organizations.”
Reading is one of my key takeaways for new managers. I especially encourage them to read books, magazines, and articles on human psychology and behavioral economics. The sensibleness is clear when you think about your role. As a manager, your job is to efficiently direct resources. Those resources, the humans who report to you, are all driven by the gray matter between their ears. If you understand how the brain works, you will better understand how your direct reports work. You will also know more about how you work which allows you to self-manage more effectively.
For example, last night I read a section of “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely. The book is about behavioral economics, the study of how psychological, cognitive, social and emotional factors affect the economic decisions people make. In one experiment, researchers found very clear evidence that employee benefits beyond compensation invoked social norms among those employees which led to greater commitment and productivity. This commitment and productivity were lost when the company focused only on market norms, invoked through money and promotions.
I have no immediate use for this knowledge. However, in the past, I have designed compensation and employee rewards programs. In the future, I expect to do more of the same. When I do, I will have more evidence to support providing benefits that respect employees as individuals knowing that they will recognize this support, appreciate it and follow social norms to repay it with greater productivity and loyalty.
You get the point: feed your mind to be a better manager. Here are some recommendations to get you started:
Subscribe to Psychology Today and Scientific American Mind. I’ve recommended these before because they are solid primers on the latest in research on the human psyche in an easily digestible format. Recent articles with a direct benefit to managers include:
- “Lessons for Millennials” from Psychology Today is an interview piece for people starting their careers. This can be useful if you are a millennial or if you manage them.
- “Forget About Single-Minded Goals, Focus on This Instead” from Psychology Today discusses why so many of us fail to achieve a single, big goal. How might this apply to a direct report who struggles with the reality that their life? Helping them to release the “need” to focus on only one goal may free them to be far more successful.
- A book review of “Originals” in Scientific American Mind explains how an economist went searching to understand why some customer service agents performed better than others. That search brought him to the conclusion that those agents are, largely, non-conformists. He also found that non-conformists are more common than we might think.
Hit the bookstore. Pick up a copy of “Predictably Irrational” to better understand how people tick. Get a copy of “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield to better understand how people stand in their own way. Pick up almost anything by Seth Godin to better understand what kind of different thinking is needed in the workplace.
Join Medium and subscribe to at least one channel you wouldn’t ordinarily follow. Then choose one day a week, let’s say Friday, and read two or three pieces from that channel. These voices are not always expert but that’s not the point. The point is to hear different voices about various topics.
Now, I know that it’s fashionable in some quarters to believe that being so quick thinking that you can’t fathom sitting and reading a book is a badge of honor. It’s not. Having an attention span that doesn’t allow you to grow your experience through reading is not the stuff of which pride should be made. In fact, these days, being able to say that you recently read a book is a statement to your intellect and opens more conversational doors than you can imagine.