How Business Leaders Read

Is reading important for success? Many people believe that the answer is yes, but it might be difficult to find real-world examples. An article from the The New York Times provides us with the examples we need. Entitled C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success, it talks about the reading habit of some prominent business leaders such as Phil Knight (the founder of Nike) and Michael Moritz (a venture capitalist behind the likes of Google and Yahoo). Not only do these leaders love reading, they make it an indispensable part of improving their life and business.

How else can we better learn about good reading than from such successful people? Here is how they read (with quotes from the article and my comments):

1. They read to improve thinking

Serious leaders who are serious readers build personal libraries dedicated to how to think, not how to compete.

“My books have helped me develop a way of thinking critically in business…”

They are aware that the benefit of reading first and foremost is to improve their thinking. More than just giving knowledge, reading trains their mind to think better.

This is something I learn to better on. So far, I read mainly to gain knowledge, and only secondarily to improve my thinking. I should reverse the order, though I haven’t figured out how exactly I should use reading to improve my thinking.

2. They read to learn from the best

If there is a C.E.O. canon, its rule is this: “Don’t follow your mentors, follow your mentors’ mentors,”

For them, here is a great benefit of reading: by reading books, they do not just learn from their mentors; they learn from their mentors’ mentors.

We may not be able to meet face-to-face with the great thinkers of the world. But, by reading their works, we will have them teach us personally. It is as if we sit beside them and let them speak to us about their rich knowledge and experiences. Is there a better way to learn from so many great thinkers of the world than reading their works?

3. They read classic books

Forget finding the business best-seller list in these libraries…

This is surprising to me. Since they are business leaders, I expect them to mainly read business books. But the opposite is true. This is what Michael Moritz said:

“I rarely read business books, except for Andy Grove’s ‘Swimming Across,’ which has nothing to do with business…”

Instead of reading business books, they mainly read classic books. They find the most value and wisdom through the books which have passed the test of time.

This is something beyond my current reading habit. So far, I read mainly popular books. While I believe the classics are excellent read, I still read mostly recent books. Maybe someday I will reach the level where I read the classics more, but it’s not yet the case.

4. They read diversely

“I try to vary my reading diet and ensure that I read more fiction than nonfiction,”

I wrote about diversifying reading before, and that is something I actively try to do.

What I still don’t understand is the “reading more fiction than nonfiction” part. Maybe you can share with me why that should be the case? Now I mainly read nonfiction since I think I get the most value that way.

5. They read to find other perspectives

“I read for pleasure and to find other perspectives on how to think or solve a problem”

This is also something I actively try to do. Reading outside of our favorite topics is important. It gives us different perspectives and a lot of fresh ideas to use.


What do you think about the points above? While I love reading, I think their reading habit is far beyond mine. They see things differently and think differently. I hope someday I will also reach that level.

Photo by mclgreenville


  1. This is a great post. I have always read fiction but right now am in a big non-fiction self-improvement, personal finance phase. But I always keep a fiction book around to pick up to break up the nonfiction when I am in the mood. There are some good articles about reading fiction on Scott H. Young’s blog at I don’t always agree with his choice of books, but he has some good insights to the benefits of fiction.

  2. Hi Donald, great article!
    Thanks for the idea of diversifying reading, reading the same topic over and over again can be found quite boring. Most of my interest is personal development, spiritual, and psychology book, but I guess I will need to diversify and try to look at fictional books as well, please do share if you have any fiction book that you recommend.

  3. great post!

    some of my favorite books on investing are decades old. one was written in the 1950s and another in the late 1800s!!!

    reading books on topics that you know nothing about also stimulates your brain. For example, even though I’m an engineer and investor, I’ve started reading books on advertising and copywriting. Studies have shown that this sort of reading boosts your IQ and your scores on tests like Mensa and the GMAT.

  4. Tanks for your post, it all makes perfect sense. I like reading a lot, and besides reading I also like to write myself, Recently I even created a new ‘Blogspot’ about Happy WRITING, it already has a brand new ‘Daily Item’ on it titled:

    “Writing Tip of the Day”

    You can also find my Syndicated Columns on it, and obviously also
    posts about writing.

    I really like to receive some comments that can inspire me, or if you have something written yourself like for example a ‘Short Story’ that you want to give exposure you can alway’s contact me via my site. (I do have a ‘Daily Item’ on it and I am beginning to get more and more ‘Daily Visitors’ to my sites.)

    You can find my ‘Happy WRITING’ Blogspot at:

    All the Best,

    P.S. it goes without saying that you can also have a look at the
    FREE Preview of my eBook at the ‘Main Happy Blogspot Site’ also at the moment have a post about an interesting book about ‘Happiness’ with an ‘audio interview’ with the author!

  5. […] C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success [, gefunden bei] Hier erscheint jeden Morgen von Montag bis Freitag ein ausgewählter Link zu einem gelungenen […]

  6. Ann,
    Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll check it out. Just like yours, my own reading phase has changed. Years ago I read mostly fiction, but now I’ve been in non-fiction phase for long, long time.

    You’re welcome! I diversify to fiction books just recently, so I still have no idea about good fiction books 🙂

    I agree with you about stimulating our brain through reading new topics. That’s a good way for brain exercise.

    Good luck for your writing blog! Writing is an important topic for many people, including me.

  7. Hi Donald
    I always read a variety of stuff but I am finding that my reading choices are getting bigger.

    What I still don’t understand is the “reading more fiction than nonfiction” part

    I love reading fiction I think you learn more about the motivation and emotion behind the methods than facts. It will stimulate the creative side of the brain rather than the thinking logic side.

    But to cope with the extra reading – the way I read has changed as well – I think you have covered that before?


  8. Leona,
    Thanks for your explanation about the importance of fiction! I think you’re right, reading fiction stimulates the creative side more, while reading nonfiction stimulates the logic side more.

    For handling the extra reading, I try to increase my reading speed and use the 80/20 rule to read only the important parts..

  9. Excellent post.

    The takeaway of this article is – read to think better and free your mind.

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