A Leader Who is Too Busy to Read?

marine-general-james-mattisRead – then do – then read some more – then do some more. This is the formula. And this Marine General reminds us of it so clearly.

I have been completely captivated by the wisdom in an email from Marine General Mattis. I read about it in a Business Insider article.

General Mattis makes the case that part of the leader’s job is to read, and learn from what he/she has read. Learn, as in “put into practice”. Here is an excerpt from his email:

The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men.

Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead…

This is not new to the USMC approach to warfighting — Going into Kuwait 12 years ago, I read (and reread) Rommel’s Papers, Montgomery’s book (“Eyes Officers”…), “Grant Takes Command” (need for commanders to get along, “commanders’ relationships” being more important than “command relationships”), and some others.

As a result, the enemy has paid when I had the opportunity to go against them, and I believe that many of my young guys lived because I didn’t waste their lives because I didn’t have the vision in my mind of how to destroy the enemy at least cost to our guys and to the innocents on the battlefields.

How many times have leaders found themselves in situations that require wise decisions and quick thinking, but they only have their own experiences to draw from? How many people rise to positions of leadership that require wisdom and depth, and yet they try to fulfill their roles without continuing the practice of regular, even daily, substantive reading?

General Mattis reminds us that nearly everything we face has been faced before. As new as this strange new world is, it is not that new.

If you read his email in its entirety, you come away with a deep sense that the failure to make time to read — the failure to read, and learn from what you read — is tantamount to a dereliction of duty for any leader.

Read… You have to! And, read… Your people need you to.

Randy Mayeux

Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

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