Does the thought of having 7,000 books in your personal library make you giddy or give you trepidation?
Recently I read an article highlighting the prolific reading habits of Secretary of Defense James Mattis. He had over 7,000 books in his library when he retired as a general in the U.S. Marine Corp. “Mad Dog Mattis” is widely known as highly successful and much loved by the troops, although his nickname doesn’t necessarily lend itself to someone having a reputation as an avid reader. My experience, however, is that most great warrior leaders are readers.
Mattis said, “You stay teachable most by reading books on what other people went through,” [Tweet This]
There’s some rich advice packed in that short sentence to all who desire to grow in their leadership and train other leaders.
My Other Recent Reading
This news article has special meaning because I just finished reading an inspiring yet practical book, What Now, Lieutenant? a great autobiography by a retired four-star U.S. Marine General, Richard “Butch” Neal, who is a contemporary of my era in Vietnam.
In 1967 he served as a platoon commander alongside one of my high school and college friends. They were ambushed, and my friend Lt Prickett was seriously wounded in battle. Lt. Neal applied first aid to his teammate and then transitioned him over to a medic. Lt Neal then realized that the company commander and his assistant were dead, making him in charge, creating the first of many “what now lieutenant?” experiences of his career. I’ve also read a few more books in the last few weeks:
- Nomad’s Fire by Dr. Sid Webb – a tragic fire in Colorado that wiped out everything his family owned
- You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have by Greg Hiebert – how to take care of yourself to be happy
- Into the Mouth of the Cat by Malcom McConnel – a powerful book about my friend and fellow fighter pilot, Lance Sijan’s courageous battle to resist, escape, and survive in the jungles of Laos and the POW camps of Vietnam.
- You can also see my entire list of past recommended books in my blog.
My Path to Better Reading
Over time, I’ve become an avid reader, but it was not something that I willingly did growing up. In fact, I rarely read anything other than newspapers and magazines until I was forty and a student at the Air War College. There it was required, and we had dedicated time each day for reading and reflection on military and geo-political issues.
Some of our senior leaders in the Vietnam POW camps were scholars, but even more were readers. This gave them a broad view of life, history and insights into leadership principles that had stood the test of time throughout the ages. All POWs benefitted by having leaders who were readers.
You may recall that General Patton in WWII was an avid reader, as it was his way of staying ahead of his competition and his enemies.
4 Practical Tips to Better Reading
I’ve written four books—all teaching books filled with stories that illustrate the lessons of life, leadership and teamwork. Have you ever stopped to consider that stories are the least expensive and most efficient way we can learn about life and leadership?
“I’ve found that learning about the sacrifices, suffering, and successes of others equip readers in areas of strategy, tactics, and proven principles that work.” [Tweet This]
Just as important, stories connect to our emotions and emotional memories are usually more accessible than cognitive memories. Ultimately, stories inspire us, making it more likely we’ll be energized for action so that we follow through on knowledge gained.
So, if you’re a reader, that is a significant achievement. And if you have read my books, I hope they have made a difference for you. If you’re not a reader, summertime is a perfect time to start.
Here are four practical tips for personal development:
- Recognize your struggle. Acknowledge you are missing out and find a way to motivate yourself in this discipline.
- Identify an area of interest and find a related book that offers insights for personal and professional growth. Read the story for enjoyment and pay attention to the lessons others learned along the way. Most biographies and autobiographies fill this bill.
- Do it. Start with your first book and have the goal of gaining at least two takeaways that you can apply.
- Pass on a good book to others. Good leaders help others grow.
If you haven’t started the habit of reading, you’re missing out on a wonderful opportunity for both entertainment and affordable teaching and learning. It’s a deal too good to miss. Read any great books lately? Please share them in the comments section below.
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