Sunday, November 29, 2009

Leaders are readers

I recently had an opportunity to have dinner with another fire chief who has enjoyed much success in his career. He’s visionary, well-respected and gives much of himself back to our profession by traveling and teaching classes. I asked to define and describe a common trait that he sees in leaders as he travels the country. He told me the best leaders are avid readers of everything they can get their hands on: Books, journals, newspapers, even the magazines on the airplane.

I have to agree with this chief’s assessment completely. I have been an incessant reader throughout my entire adult life. I stash books like squirrels stash nuts. I have a couple on the nightstand in the bedroom, several on the end table in the living room, a few in my car and a couple in my computer bag. I typically read 4-5 books at a time. Maybe I’ve got ADD, ADHD or OCD. Whatever the reason, I can never remember reading just one book at a time. Maybe it harkens back to the habits formed in the formidable years when teachers would assign homework that required the reading from multiple books. Who knows?

My favorite types of books are those that inspire me to greater achievement. I enjoy books about leaders who have overcome adversity and those who have had successful careers. I like self-help books that give me ideas for making incremental improvements in my own performance. I may read an entire book and only extract one good thing I can use from it. But that one thing may be a golden nugget. Some of the best gifts I have received were books. Many I still have and re-read regularly. Some were so good, I had to give them away.

As much as I read books and journals, I don’t spend much time with the newspaper. I find reading the newspapers depressing. It’s always chocked completely full of bad news that I prefer not to read. I find my disposition being dragged down when I read about all the crime and troubles of our world. I’m not in denial that such things exist, I’d just rather not dwell on it. For the same reason I don’t watch much television either.

I am reminded about a discussion I overheard recently where the topic was the economy and the conversation was focused on two previous economic recessions, one in the early 1980s and one in the early 1990s. I didn’t remember there being recessions in the early 80s or 90s. I had to go look it up. In the 1980s recession unemployment was slightly over 10%. In the 1990s recession unemployment was just under 8%.

Hmmm. How could I not remember this? Surely it was big news at the time. Guess I was too busy living life and wasn’t too worried about all the bad news that was happening around me. I didn’t read the newspaper or watch much TV then either. I guess I didn’t know I was supposed to be depressed over the economy. I bought things when I wanted them and I didn’t worry much about the recession.

Fire Chief (ret.) Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO, MICP

[Note: This article was also posted on The Kitchen Table blog.]

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