John Coleman suggests that avid reading in broader areas is good for leaders. Of course, there are other things necessary for good leadership, but I agree with Coleman. I think the critical insight for Coleman is not so much that people are reading less, but that they are reading more narrowly by subject and that they are reading less deeply. I would also say that it is not only important to read more broadly in various subjects, but it is also critical to engage writers with whom you will struggle to agree. Reading only the like-minded simply confirms one's views and seldom challenges. Good leaders are open to different ideas and different ways of looking at things.
Even though global literacy rates are high (84%), people are reading less and less deeply. This trend is especially detrimental to those in leadership roles. As John Coleman explains, deep, broad reading habits are often a defining characteristic of great leaders, and can catalyze insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness.
The National Endowment for the Arts has found that "reading has declined among every group of adult Americans," and for the first time in American history, "less than half of the U.S. adult American population is reading literature." This is terrible for leadership, where my experience suggests those trends are even more pronounced. Business people seem to be reading less—particularly material unrelated to business.
Note how many business titans are or have been avid readers. According to The New York Times, Steve Jobs had an "inexhaustible interest" in William Blake; Nike founder Phil Knight so reveres his library that in it you have to take off your shoes and bow; and Harman Industries founder Sidney Harman called poets "the original systems thinkers," quoting freely from Shakespeare and Tennyson. In Passion & Purpose, David Gergen notes that Carlyle Group founder David Rubenstein reads dozens of books each week.
And history is littered not only with great leaders who were avid readers and writers (remember, Winston Churchill won his Nobel prize in Literature, not Peace), but with business leaders who believed that deep, broad reading cultivated in them the knowledge, habits, and talents to improve their organizations.
Many business people claim that reading across fields is good for creativity. And leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them to their organizations are more likely to innovate and prosper.