How to Read a Book in a Way that Produces Change

One of the keys to the success of anyone’s leadership development is knowing how to read a book. For years, I would set a goal of reading 52 books between January 1 and December 31. And for several years I accomplished that goal. I still think that’s a good discipline for a young leader, but as I grew older something inside told me to slow down. I sensed I was at a stage where I needed to focus less on information and focus more on transformation. So I started reading fewer books. But that still wasn’t having the growth impact I was longing for.

It took a while, but I finally developed a 6 Question System for reading that seemed to take me deeper into the content and impacted my thinking in a more tangible way. Today when I read a book, I start by reading the table of contents and dividing it into sections. Sometimes a section is one chapter; sometimes it’s 2 or 3 chapters. Instead of applying all six questions to every single chapter, I apply the questions to the larger sections.

The following six questions force me to read each section on a deeper level.

What stood out to you the most?

I don’t actually write the answer to this question. But I answer this by using a highlighter to mark every sentence that stood out to me. In a 10-page chapter this may be as many as 40-60 sentences that stood out as important or as key thoughts.

What challenged your thinking the most?

Now that I’ve finished reading the chapter, I go back and read my highlights and put a “C” (Challenge) by no more than three highlights. Next I write down in my journal (Evernote) the answer to what challenged me the most. Narrowing it down to just three things that challenged me and writing the answer to that question makes me process the content at a whole new depth.

What did you question or disagree with?

It’s always tempting to skip over this question. Many times we don’t pause long enough to question the content of what we just read. I look back over my highlights and put a “?” beside one or two things I disagreed with or questioned. Next I write in my journal what or why I disagreed. Or if I didn’t disagree with anything, I write out what questions came to my mind. This forces me to look at the content from a different angle and process even deeper.

What area did my reading reveal where I need to grow?

In order to imbed the subject material into your soul, think through an area of Personal Growth the reading revealed for you. As I look back over my highlights, I put a “-“ (minus sign) beside a section that reveals a needed growth area of my life. Then I write out where and how I need to grow in that area. So as you review your reading section, ask yourself: “Did it highlight a specific area of weakness that I need to work on? Did it reveal a poor attitude, an undeveloped skill, a bad habit, a relational roadblock I need to address?” If we really want to change, we’ll take the time to identify those specific areas of growth potential in our own life.

What area of strength did this reading affirm about my leadership?

Finally, I look for strengths that the chapter affirmed in my life or leadership. As I read back over the highlights, I put a “+” (plus sign) beside the section that revealed where I am already proficient. We become better leaders when we focus on developing our strengths. So make sure you allow the content you’re reading to affirm the positive aspects of your leadership.

What 3-5 action steps will you take as a result of your reading?

Next, I write down what I’m going to do as a result of reading the content of the chapter or section. If you don’t put into practice the principles you learned, those principles will never be translated into new behaviors. So force yourself to find a few action steps you will take. Remember there is no transformation without application.

If you read yesterday’s post give your new hire one of the books from that list and these six questions.  Then schedule a time to get together to discuss what you learned from the first section of that book.  That way not only are you growing but you’re developing another leader as well.