If you walk into either of my offices at work or at home, the first thing you’ll notice is that I have a lot of books. I love books because I know what books have done for me. Books are vital for your personal and professional development. You will simply not develop to your full potential unless you read books that expand your mind and lift your vision.
You’ve heard it said, “Leaders are readers,” and that’s very true. You are leading at least one person in your life, and that’s yourself. You cannot lead others well until you have led yourself well, and reading is a vital part of that self-leadership process.
So what’s with the title of this post? How could you possibly hire George Washington as your personal coach? It’s very simple: you have immediate access to any person, living or dead, whose life has been recorded in a biography. When you read about their successes and failures, it functions as a one-way mentoring relationship. It’s much like having your own personal coach or trainer.
Why Read Biographies?
Let’s be honest: biographies sometimes get a bad rap for being boring. After all, who would want to read a boring historical biography when they could read a novel or fantasy book?
My experience has been that a well-written biography can be the most mesmerizing reading of all, because truth is stranger (and more interesting) than fiction. Books on business, personal development and success, finance, and self-improvement are great, but I am more drawn to the stories of great lives from the past (and present).
There are several benefits to reading biographies of men and women who have accomplished great things:
- We can learn from their failures. In a sense, we borrow their life experience so we can avoid some of the same mistakes.
- We are inspired by their victories. Their triumphs move us out of apathy and into action.
- They show us what’s possible. Their stories enlarge our vision of what we can accomplish in life.
- They help us to be grateful for our blessings. The stories of those who lived before us help us see the blessings of modern conveniences. How much easier we have it today!
There are many kinds of books and other learning resources that will help us rise to greater levels of success and achievement, but biographies hold a special place because we can learn from someone’s life story.
How to Make Time to Read
The biggest struggle we all have when it comes to reading is not the motivation, it’s the time. Do you ever feel you have enough time to read? Probably not! I feel the same way. However, here are a few tips that will help you take better advantage of your reading time.
- Take a book wherever you go. iPads and other reading devices are great for this. Just always have a book with you because you never know when you’ll have a few minutes to read. I have even been known to take a book to a Cardinals baseball game. (That’s extreme, I know. But seriously, have you ever noticed that most of a baseball game is spent with the players standing around waiting for something exciting to happen?)
- Take advantage of small chunks of time. It’s amazing how much time we waste in a single day. Once I went to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles to get my license plates renewed, and it was packed. I looked around, and everybody was either just staring into space waiting for their turn, or playing on their phones. Not a single person seemed to be reading. You’re going to be there a minimum of 30 minutes, and you didn’t bring anything productive to do? Always have a book with you, or at least something to make good use of your time.
- Invest in a speed-reading book or course. There are lots out there, but I have benefited from the book Power Reading by Rick Ostrov, and the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Course. I don’t consider myself a speed-reader per se, but I learned some very valuable things that help me read faster, retain more content, and gauge what content to skim, and what to read more deeply.
A Few Great Biographies
Here are a few of the better biographies I’ve read or come across the last few years. You may find that you connect with one or more of them. Some of them are not traditional biographies, but biographical sketches or true-life stories of a group of people.
- Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (I have been reading this one lately and it’s very good; it was also the inspiration for today’s challenge title!)
- Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission by Hampton Sides
- The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris (This is the first part of Morris’ Roosevelt trilogy.)
- Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakaur
- Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
- Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King
- Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King
(Side note: I don’t mean to only focus on the biographies of men, but I tend to gravitate toward the lives of political and military leaders.)
Two Helpful Tips
Here are two important tips to keep in mind when reading biographies:
- You don’t need to agree with everything an author says, or even the perspective of the one who is the subject. But there is always something to learn from his or her life.
- You don’t need to choose a biography that is hundreds of pages long. In fact, I have greatly benefited from the “junior biographies” available at public libraries. These are short books written for pre-teens and teens, and I have enjoyed them just as much as their intended audience. If you want to get a quick glimpse of an historical life, this is a great strategy.
Question: What is a great biography you’ve read that has inspired you in some way?