Habits of Successful People: Reading Books

What? You Mean I Have to Read?

Bookstores have more hidden wealth than Fort Knox–and they're easier to get into.

Good article. Catchy title. Just wish it had more practical advice. Now I have to make another stop and buy a book before I can get the information. Would like more details next time.

This was one of the comments posted early this morning in response to my review of the book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months by Melinda F. Emerson. Ironically, earlier this morning, as I walked from the 14th Street PATH train stop to my office at Black Enterprise’s New York headquarters on Fifth Avenue and 18th Street, I was just thinking to myself how libraries and bookstores are like open vaults full of hidden wealth and buried treasure–they’re called books–yet so many people walk by them every day with no thought of ever entering and partaking in the treasure hunt. (Yes, that’s the kind of stuff that runs through my mind as I’m walking to work. My daily Bible reading during my morning commute was the fourth chapter of Proverbs. Check Verse 7, and my train of thought this morning might make more sense. Or not.)

Anyway, that was my mindset when I logged in as one of our web site’s administrators to read and respond to comments at BlackEnterprise.com, as I do each morning, only to be confronted with, “Now I have to make another stop and buy a book before I can get the information.” Wow. What a buzz kill. Now, I could be reading more into the comment than was intended, or misreading it entirely. But to me, the author of the comment was all but saying, “Awww, damn. You mean I actually have to read? Why can’t you just tell me?”

Well, the obvious answer to that question is, yes, you have to read, at least if you want to excel as an entrepreneur, as a business executive, or as a wealth-builder in almost any area of worthy endeavor. No, you don’t need to read to survive, or even to enjoy your life. But you do need to read to excel, especially in business. In fact, one of the most important habits of successful people is a steady diet of reading. And despite the rise and ubiquity of social media (and I’m speaking as an unrepentant Twitter and Facebook junkie), scanning the Twitter stream and Facebook status updates all day can never substitute for reading books. In fact, I get many of my best reading recommendations from my FB friends, Twitter followers and contacts on other social media sites. And I am passionate about returning the favor, which is why I and my fellow Black Enterprise editors perform what we believe is a really important service, both in the magazine and in our Book Review category at BlackEnterprise.com: reading and reviewing as many books as we can so we can screen out and recommend the best ones for you and help you to avoid wasting valuable time on the others.

Not to dwell too much on this, but if there is anything I’ve learned from my three decades of interaction with BE 100s CEOs, top corporate executives, accomplished entrepreneurs, top investors and leaders in religion, sports, entertainment, academia and politics–including at least a few U.S. presidents (yes, including President Obama)–they all have one thing in common. The wealthiest, most successful, most powerful people in the world read books. They reread books. They never stop reading books. They are endlessly committed to their own continuing education, to learning what they need to know to attain and sustain their wealth, power, influence and success. Are there exceptions? There must be. They just happen to avoid me like the plague, apparently.

One of the things I often require of people who ask me to be their mentor is that they read at least one book on business, personal finance, investing or business leadership each month. (For books to boost your financial literacy, check out these great picks from me and some of my colleagues at Black Enterprise). I’m sure they don’t all follow through on that commitment (it’s not like I ask them to write and submit book reports). But the most successful ones do.

There’s no way you’re going to learn everything you need to know to set and achieve your goals and objectives from TV shows, tweets, podcasts, magazine articles or blog posts. Attending conferences and seminars are good, but not enough. All of these are great resources, but none are substitutes. If you really want to succeed in business, you need to read books.