In 2013, there were more than 300,000 books published (new and re-releases) in the United States alone. You can’t read them all, but you can read at least some of them. And the ones you do read ought to be strategic choices. We can read on purpose, strengthening our skills and understanding as leaders. But with that many books, how do we decide what to read?
1. Narrow down the categories.
First of all, let me get this on the table. I don’t read fiction. There are too many good true stories to be read. I can only read so much, so why not read on purpose? I’m not anti-fiction. I’m just pro-history.
Most of us are not interested in becoming experts in all fields, but there are some areas that should interest us. For me, I want to be a better leader, educator, and Christ-follower. Therefore, business, history, education, and religion are my starting points. Every once in a while I find a book that fits three of the four categories, making it a must-read for me.
2. Monitor the monitors of the pacemakers.
There are people who set the pace in every field. These tend to be the people invited to speak at conferences and interviewed by national programs. These people change. You will agree with some and disagree with others. Read both. Doing so helps you think through why you believe what you believe and helps you develop an answer to their objections.
Different groups monitor who the pacemakers are in a field. Here are a few places I have found to be the most helpful.
- Online booksellers. Most websites give you the option of listing books sold by popularity.
- National news outlets. Several larger news outlets publish lists of top-selling books.
- Colleges. Many colleges allow non-students to view course syllabi online. If your category is education, then look at the books being used in the education classes, especially the upper-level classes.
- Local business leaders. Ask business leaders you know what they are reading.
- Airport bookstores. Airport bookstores are designed for two people: the vacationer and the business traveler. What you find here reveals what these two groups are reading.
- Airline magazines. Many of these in-flight magazines include book reviews and reading suggestions and can be viewed on the Internet. Once again, these are targeting the person on vacation and the business traveler.
If you see the same book listed in multiple places, add it to the should-read list.
3. Invite others to monitor with you.
Ask two or three coworkers or friends to monitor with you. You may agree to monitor different things and then compare notes. Working with a team does three things. First of all, it spreads the load. You can now manage the search. The team also becomes a vetting committee. You can each be reading different books, being critics for each other. The team also becomes a natural discussion group for what you are reading.
4. Ask the reading question.
When you visit with your boss or some other leader, ask them about what they have read over the past few months. A good way to ask is: What have you read over the past 6 months that you would recommend to others? If you have already read it, then let your boss know and include one thing you learned from the book. If it is on your reading list, move it to the top. If it isn’t on your list, add it.
One more thought: just because you have a reading list doesn’t mean you will read. You must designate some time to reading. Having a tablet may help, but always carry something to read with you. You never know when the opportunity to read may occur through your day. You may also want to schedule time in your day or at the end of your day to read. The issue is not when but that you schedule the time.
What other actions have you taken to decide what to read?
G. Dwayne McCrary is the team leader for Adult and Young Adult group resources at Lifeway, leads two weekly Bible study groups (one for empty-nesters and one for 4-year olds), serves as an adjunct professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and carries 20-plus years of church staff experience. He is married to Lisa (both native Texans), and they have two children and one grandson. Find him on Twitter: @gdwayne.
I do read fiction, but selectively. But it is not brain candy, I look for authors that do research and who are topical. Bellucci, Thor, and Grisham fit this. For example Thor got me to side research narcissism—a major problem in our society today.
Also, within a field I tend to be selective, within religion I look for small group dynamics, discipleship principles and mysticism.
Thanks for sharing. The more targeted your category, the better, if we are going to read on purpose/strategically.