Leaders are readers

Part of the New Guinea Commerce Winners Don’t Cheat Series.

By Sean Jacobs

‘Not all readers are leaders,’ said American President Harry Truman, ‘but all leaders are readers.’

Truman, who never went to college, is a great example of a self-taught consequential leader. Able to read Thucydides and Cicero in the original Latin, Truman was apparently so up-to-speed that he once even corrected a Chief Justice of the United States.

Painted as a buffoon by the so-called intellectuals of his day, Truman’s supposedly poor decisions – to fight in Korea and pursue a strategy of containment against the Soviet Union – have since been vindicated by history. Because Truman could look further back, some say, he could see further forward. But he could only ‘look further back’ because he was a great reader.

The point of Truman’s story is to show not just the value of reading but how central reading is to leadership, especially at the highest and most critical levels. George W. Bush famously competed in reading battles against his top adviser Karl Rove, where the President read well over 50 books a year – from writers like Albert Camus and Abraham Lincoln to topics like the Soviet Union to the Spanish Civil War.

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