Leaders, Not Just Readers

Leaders are readers. I’m sure this isn’t a new idea to you. The first time I heard it I was thrilled because I love to read. I love having access into the minds of people who are smarter than me, to learn something new, see a new perspective. But something I read this weekend made me question this classic axiom.

My mother loves to cook, but more specifically, she cooks as a way to love and serve others. For Mother’s Day, I gave her a book called Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist. Because I love to read, I read the entire book before giving it to my mom. The author shared a story about her experience at cooking boot camp, and I believe that what she learned on this trip is a challenge to us all.

“One hazard for an avid reader is that it’s easy to think you can do something just because you’ve read about it. Not true. I read cookbooks voraciously, and I could talk you through the steps of all kinds of things—how to make a béchamel sauce or how to debone a duck. But if you put an actual duck in front of me, I’d be lost… Same with watching something on TV… We think that because we log long hours in front of Giada or Barefoot Contessa, we’re actually cooking, so when it’s time to cook, we eat cheese and crackers in front of the TV, exhausted from our imaginary and vicarious culinary exertions. What I learned more than anything else that week is that we learn by doing…[When] you find yourself… holding a very sharp chef’s knife and you realize all at once that it doesn’t matter what you’ve read or seen or think you know…You learn it, really learn it, with your hands.”

If you’re the type of person who is reading this newsletter, chances are you have also consumed your share of books, blogs, seminars, and podcasts about leadership and growth and life. This is an important part of growing. But what have you done with that information? Are you actually in the “kitchen”, getting your hands dirty, and practicing what you’ve learned through trial and error, or are you sitting comfortably in front of the TV or behind a book or a desk—assuming that when you really need to be a leader, you’ll have what it takes because you’ve read the book?

Leaders may indeed be readers, but true leaders are also doers.
And by the way, mothers are some of the world’s greatest doers. Happy belated Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there!