Leaders Are Readers, Readers Are Leaders — Really?

ByFaizal Sohaimi

So, why do we have so many dimwits masquerading as “leaders” in this country, especially in the business world? Forget about politics for a second. We know there are simply too “many” of them. Note that I didn’t write “too many”, I wrote “too much”. No idea what are their real species…..

OK, let us look at politics. Just a bit.


A former PM was said to have bought the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” and had his staff read it, and explained it to him. Or should I say “attempted” to explain it to him? Not sure he understood any. Otherwise, a certain someone might not need to “advise” him and enriched the Hermes handbag division…

Meanwhile, his copy I was told, remained unread on his desk, at a prominent place. Only flipped. So that people would think that “he reads…”. With what happened with 1MDB, I don’t have to mention who he was.

His defence was probably that he was conned by a graduate of one of the top business schools. If that chubby boy from Penang really graduated from the said school, that is. Anyway, it just showed that he read. With the knowledge he had, he led that idiot who once resided in that place called Seri Perdana or something. Astray, instead of using the funds for development. After all, that organization was supposed to be a “Development Board” for “1 Malaysia”.

Just to show that readers are leaders.

Someone who read vs someone who put a book on his desk, and patiently waited for his wife “to advise” him…

We had too, some “leaders” who allegedly scored less than the passing mark on their university exams. But due to the “quota” system then, supposedly, he was allegedly given a “pass” grade and went on to operate a few clinics and even became a minister! Nevertheless!

We wondered why he couldn’t tell the difference between Spanish Flu, and Spanish Fly. Didn’t he at least read his medical textbooks?

Books, Not Just Facebook

On the other hand, we have a former prime minister who wrote and wrote. Books, not just Facebook postings or articles. To write, he would just have to read. A lot. To understand things, keep abreast of things and issues.

We might not like him. We might have issues with how he led the country, and the direction he took us. But, listen to how he articulated his points of view, even interspersed with “apa nama”, (his favorite “filler words”, according to the Toastmasters) we knew that he thought well before he spoke, and he got the information from reading.

The current prime minister also I dare bet, reads. Being a graduate of Universiti Malaya, I trust that he was exposed to great reading materials in its library. What he understood from the reading, that’s another story…

As for the guy who put sliced cucumber around the wok with fried rice, I guess he spent too much time reading culinary materials, or women’s magazines.

Business Leaders

In the business world, as I was exposed to it in the last thirty years of my career or working life, I saw these kinds of business leaders:

  1. Self-employed people or maybe we can call them “self-raising” too? They might not be highly educated. Started a business on a trade that they knew, went through “the school of hard knocks” and achieved some levels of success. Many of them also managed to send their children to university education. Some locally, many overseas too! They were not very keen readers. They read a lot of newspapers though – to spot opportunities. They read.
  2. Professionals turned entrepreneurs. These professional managers would be highly educated. Many even had MBAs, some from top universities. They worked many years for successful companies and found niches to exploit. Sometimes through experience, observations or even reading. Reading often would inspire their minds – to think of something or to “see” things. Things previously “unseen”, just whizzed by. Reading gave them new realizations. They also read mainly reports.

You’d see too, professionals who’d want to move up. Be the CEO sometimes, probably. Or at least a CXO. Never mind what the “X” denoted – “X” marks the spot…

They read to learn. Pick up some lessons or pointers. Applied some in their daily work. It helped to make their work easier. When they learned to “read” people from “Surrounded By Idiots”; or when they learned “How To Win Friends & Influence People”, or “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. They learned to relate with people, better.

Move On Up!

Read these books and you’ll move up. If not your company, your industry. Probably other industries too as these skills, once you practiced them, and internalized them, they become part of what you are. As these skills are about relating with humans, they are transferable to any industry you get into.

But you protest, “That uncouth and rude uncle was also successful in his business. He sent three of his kids overseas!”. Or, “CEO, he is such an ar**ho**, yet he got to be the CEO”.

OK, the world is not fair. We see people in our perspective to be “undeserving”, and got to where we envy them.

Oftentimes, some of them read too. By skimming the books. They grabbed the points that helped them to get to where they wanted to be. They, however, missed out on the “immersive” part. Which will make them more “human”, from my perspective.

(Not) Being Human

They’d also read typically “technical” books I’d say. “How To Do This” and “How To Do That”. As I wrote earlier, they just skimmed the “technique” part.

Nowadays, there are book summaries. I read them too. As I wrote earlier – to get the key point or techniques. If this interested me, I’d read the full book, or listen to audiobooks, unabridged.

Since I subscribed to Audible, probably twenty years ago, I have almost 250 audiobooks in my collection. I have this bad habit when it comes to printed books – I bought almost one book a week, or more. I had probably read more than half of what I bought and gave away three-quarters of these – those that I am not likely to reread or those that I have purchased as ebooks. So yes, I had almost lost count of the number of books I read.

I read novels and action or spy thrillers too. I’d even explored Danielle Steele’s and Harold Robbins’ books too! Surprised?

My favorite authors were Robert Ludlum, Paulo Coelho, and Eric Van Lustbader when it came to fiction. Though I had many favorites for non-fiction, you’d hear me mention Dale Carnegie, Stephen Covey, Tom Peters, and forever my favorites – Bob Burg & John David Mann. These are the authors and books I kept rereading, relistening, and referring to.

Me, A Leader?

So now, I’m a great leader?

I am one of the very few people, who never really had the aspiration to be a CXO or move up the career ladder. As an employee and professional, I just wanted to do my job well. Really well.

I didn’t have the funds to attend a top school MBA program. Or even a graduate program at any university. I was just busy enjoying life with the money I made, working hard in the oilfield. Thus, I had to find other ways to learn – books. Learn and apply. Use what worked, discard what didn’t.

As an entrepreneur, still, I did not have the fund to attend a master’s program. I would rather direct the funds to expand my business. Still, I needed to learn. Back to my refuge – books. But as a bit more money came in, I started to attend short courses and seminars. The irony was, these sometimes cost more than a master’s program in Malaysia.

While I believe that the professors had a lot to share, I preferred to learn from people, and entrepreneurs, who had been in the thick and thin of businesses. Those who’d been in the trenches; experienced failures, devastated. They failed, they got up again. Failed, and got up again.

I learned from their failures. Some of them wrote books. My favorite was T Harv Eker and Jerome Tan.

Am I a great leader, now?

A resounding NO!!!

Do I relate better with people today, compared to many years ago? Do I know how to interact better with clients and turned them into buyers and raving loonies, I mean fans? Am I able to guide and lead salespeople now to improve? Do I know how to look into companies and turn them into profitable ones now? Do I know how to look into people and advise them what is the better type of work for them, to excel? Am I able to craft solutions for clients?

The answer to these questions is, YES. YES – because I read, and I tried and practised what I read.

I close with one of the most famous lines in the Muslim world – the first revealed word in the Quran. Iqra’ – read. I’d add a little more – read, apply, and keep doing what worked.

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