President Harry Truman once said that not all readers are leaders but all leaders are readers. That’s a bold statement by this famous leader. Truman believed that you could learn how to be a better leader through the writing of those who had led before. We can learn from the mistakes and successes of others.
Truman also believed in personal responsibility. His most famous quote was ‘the buck stops here’, was in reference to his personal responsibility for the entire country as its president. He would not ‘pass the buck‘ or blame others. In my coaching network I teach that all leaders are responsible for their personal leadership growth. One of the ways to grow as a leader is to be a reader, but leaders often complain they don’t retain what they read. This blog is about how to keep the information you read.
We have strategies and systems for most areas of our leadership, why not this one? Here’s how to retain more of what you read.
1. Read Actively
Start a highlighter and pen, either in hand or on your tablet. Highlight what sticks out to you. After reading something important to you; stop, close your eyes, and repeat what just inspired you. This causes your brain to ‘pause’ on this passage as different from the rest of what you’ve read and will treat it differently. This simple trick is actually quite helpful.
Also, take notes. I prefer to write in the book, but I also will make a document in Evernote with my top ten take-aways. Not every book is worth this sort of effort. One technique is to take notes after each chapter, but then I also write the main book points on the first blank page of the book. Some people use the front cover but covers can be torn off over time. I occasionally will go back and re-read some of my important notes. When I do, I don’t have to flip through all of the pages; I just have to flip through the first page. With a great book, I then read my chapter summaries also.
Read your notes again.
When I’m researching a topic of looking for a solution in a certain area, I will go back and read these notes again. It’s very helpful for retention and application.
2. Read with Others
You will retain more when you read with others as opposed to reading alone. It is unrealistic to think we can do this with every book, but reading a book with other goal-oriented leaders will skyrocket your remembrance. I do this once a month.
Discussing your take ways, sharing application and asking questions will take your reading from passive to active. The best way to learn something is to teach it to others. This process also has the added bonus of your colleagues noticing something you may have missed. This ‘group dynamic’ is one of the reasons I am such a huge proponent of leadership coaching.
I unapologetically encourage you to pray before and during your reading to ask God’s help with retention. Before reading scripture or another book you wish to retain, pray. Ask for divine assistance. Pray that you will be able to retain what you read and that it will be stored in long-term memory.
Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit—He will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” John 14:26 nlt or in the King James Version, “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”
If God helps us remember His word, asking God for help is a key component to remembering whatever is read.
Bonus Point: The Benefit of Reading
Every book you read from another leader is like having them as a mentor. We can learn from their mistakes and avoid the cost they paid for us. Reading how they overcame obstacles and had success, help us to speed up our learning curve and become more successful more quickly than through trial and error.
Add your thought on how to retain more, in the comments below.