Why so many leadership books?


The other day I was sent a question via LinkedIn from a young leader named Zach.  His question was this:

“What are some good books on leadership I should read? The only one I have right now is Love Works by Joel Manby.”

Back when I first wrote about Joel’s book, I hadn’t read it yet.  Now that I have, I highly recommend it. So I think Zach is headed in the right direction, but his question also got me thinking about why there are so many books, blogs (including this one), videos, webinars, seminars, conferences, and discussions about leadership.

To me, a big part of it comes down to application… or lack there of.

If everyone had applied all the wonderful principles they learned from each book or video, we’d have a world full of incredible leaders. But we don’t, so we must need more books.

Be honest, how many times have you come across some really insightful information, whether via a blog, book, video or live seminar?  Now, how much of that information have you actually applied to your daily routine or actions? (And by applied, I don’t mean that you wrote it down only to then forget where you put it.)

This doesn’t make you a bad person or even a bad leader.  It makes you normal.

We all have good intentions, but sometimes finding the time to read the book, attend the seminar or watch the video is all we can muster.  Application is either assumed just by participating, or is such an afterthought that it falls off the schedule.  Some books try to set you up for success by very explicitly stating that the “application of the principles herein” is entirely up to you. Some authors will even encourage you to stop reading if you are not going to be open to changing your behaviors and actions.  I wonder how many people stop reading at that point?

Worse, I wonder how many keep reading and still do nothing with the new information?

To go along with the lack of application theory, there is also a strange corollary that exists that ultimately creates a market and demand for these resources, and they are opposite sides of the same coin.

People who are already good leaders are usually the ones who recognize that they can improve, so they seek the resources to do so. Books sell, so more books are written.

Bad leaders, on the other had, typically don’t know they are the bad leaders and may not feel that all these resources are meant for them. People complain about these bad leaders, and more books are written.

Since you are reading this, I would imagine that, like Zach, you are a good leader who wants to improve.  If that’s the case, I have some recommendations for you… not about what to read or watch, but how to make sure you can apply the new knowledge.

  • Read, watch and consume as much insightful information as you can about leadership qualities and strategies (not all at once – more on that below).  The more varied viewpoints you can gather will help you define your own leadership style and purpose.  You will come across things you don’t agree with, and that’s okay.  Deciding what you don’t want to do as a leader is as important as deciding what you do want to do.
  • Take your time and don’t get overwhelmed.  Your development as a leader is a journey.  If you do it right, there is no end to learning and improving your skills. You’ve got lots of time to take in all the great information out there.  Don’t rush it.
  • Do not consume (read, watch or attend) another leadership experience before applying the lessons you learned from the last one.  If you are reading a book, take notes, then take a break after each chapter and apply something that you read about.  It could be a small thing, anything.  Just get in the habit of putting this knowledge into action.  Don’t watch another video or attend a seminar until you have applied something from the last one. (This can be tough when you attend a conference with multiple seminars, but take good notes and immediately document what actions you want to take based on that information.  It’s a good idea even to put in on your calendar right then and there so you don’t lose focus.)

You just read a blog post about applying what you have learned.  I did my best to present a compelling argument, and even supplied specific action steps for you to take.  Now the question is: what are you going to DO about it?

Thanks for reading (and doing something about it)!

About the author: Matt Heller specializes in helping people apply the knowledge they have just learned, or realize the knowledge they already have.

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