Read your way to excellent practice leadership

by By Ben Spinks

17 min read

President Harry Truman once said: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” This truism doesn’t just apply to presidents, Fortune 500 CEOs, and other influencers — it applies to veterinary professionals, too. If you want to demonstrate excellent practice leadership, you need to make time to read. It’s that simple.

[bctt tweet=”President Harry Truman once said: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” If you want to demonstrate excellent practice leadership, you need to make time to read.”]

“I wish I had time to read…,” you may say. Trust me, I hear you. As a veterinary professional, your days are no doubt jammed with scheduled (and unscheduled) appointments. Throw a few interruptions and emergency situations into the mix, and by the time you make it home, you’re ready for little more than a bit of Netflix binging before turning in and getting the rest you need to do it all again the next day. But read you must.

a row of books

When I suggest reading, I’m referring to books

To be clear, I recognize that there are innumerable ways to learn new things nowadays: podcasts, blogs, TED talks, Massive Open Online Courses, book summaries, etc. All of these resources can be great ways to consume content and grow as a leader. I fully support them and actively use all of the examples I listed myself.

That said, I strongly believe that reading traditional books is a worthwhile investment of your time. Some ideas and concepts need more breathing room than a blog post or TED talk can provide. Yes, book summaries can be a great way to gain awareness of the major points covered on a particular book’s topic, but they won’t provide you with a clear understanding of how the author came to his or her conclusions.

None of us were born with excellent practice leadership skills

We have to learn them, and reading is key to acquiring, honing and applying the skills that enable us to excel as leaders. In my experience, if I don’t schedule dedicated time to read, focused reading rarely happens. So, I recommend making reading an intentional priority. If you don’t, something else will always become a barrier. Whether you dedicate a few minutes to reading each day or schedule a longer chunk of time once a week, get it on your calendar.

Where to find books that promote excellent practice leadership

Remember, the goal here is to practice great leadership, so look beyond your profession and seek out books written by and about other great leaders. Not sure where to begin?

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 Ask other leaders for recommendations

Make asking for book recommendations a habit! Ask leaders you respect, regardless of their profession, what they’ve been reading lately. People who love to read love sharing recommendations. You can also search the web for recommended reading lists like this, compiled by great thinkers, entrepreneurs, and visionaries.

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 Consult reviews of top business books

Tap into the hive mind. While positive reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy a given book, they can certainly help point you in the right direction.

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 Keep a must-read book list

If you ask for recommendations and explore book reviews, you’ll soon have a long list of interesting books queued up. To keep track of them, start a book list. I keep mine on my phone. If you prefer,. Goodreads has a free app that helps you keep track. It’s available from the iOS App Store and Google Play Store.

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 Explore a variety of topics

To keep things interesting, don’t always read the same types of books. Jump from management to marketing, from leadership biographies to psychology, from consumer behavior to staff development. Keep things fresh. Mix classics and new releases. Explore a topic that you’ve never learned about before. Try something new!

Some of the greatest leaders are bibliophiles

[bctt tweet=”Warren Buffet attributes his great success to reading 500 pages of material a day. Leaders are readers! Begin reading your way to excellent practice leadership.”]

Warren Buffet attributes his great success to reading 500 pages of material a day. Of course, he’s not the only bibliophile to have made his mark; Einstein is another. If you want to follow their example, here are five tips to get you started:

1. Set a timer

a timer helps promote excellent practice leadershipBased on your daily or weekly reading schedule, set a timer for 15 minutes, or however long you want, and commit to focused reading for the duration. Assuming you’re an average reader in terms of speed, if you read for 15-20 minutes a day, at least four days a week, you’ll be able to work through most business books in less than a month.

As an aside, using a visual analog timer is one of the most effective personal productivity tools I’ve ever come across. I keep one on my desk at work and one in my home office. I use them all day long to keep myself focused (Pomodoro Technique). My favorite timers are made by the company Time Timer.

2. Join (or start) a business book club

Join a group of like-minded people that are interested in reading and ruminating on business-related books. If you can’t find an existing group, create your own. As a group, read a book each month and connect to discuss how you’re going to apply what you learned in order to deliver excellent practice leadership. You can meet in person or virtually. If you’re part of a local practice managers group, try starting there. My guess is that you won’t have any trouble finding people interested in participating.

I’m part of a group of six people that’s met monthly for the past couple years to discuss business books. Four of us are from the veterinary industry (a mix of practice managers and DVMs), one owns an unrelated business, and one is a human doctor. We take turns choosing what book the group will read next. I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of value out of the group and have found it incredibly insightful to hear how they’re applying what we learn at their practices and businesses. Another plus is that we always meet at a local brewery!

3. Remember, you don’t have to finish every book

a stack of books

You’re not going to connect with every book, every time. Even when you stack the deck in your favor by leveraging recommendations and reviews, you’ll find some books aren’t for you — and that’s okay. Don’t let a bad book bog you down. You can always pick it up later and try it again. As a rule of thumb, if I don’t feel like I’m connecting with a book, I make a point of getting through at least three chapters before deciding whether to cut ties. There are an infinite number of books, but we don’t have an infinite amount of time.

4. Focus on application and makes notes

As you’re reading, focus on how what you’re learning can be applied to your own professional development, clients, team, and practice. Consider and process connections as you go. As you wrap up each reading session (or even as you’re reading), make notes about how you can apply what you just read. This type of intentional thinking will help make the material more memorable and the return on your investment of time that much more valuable.

5. Leverage audiobooks

audible company logoAudiobooks can be a great way to make books accessible if you’re short on time or busy with mindless tasks around the house. At my practice, we incorporate required reading into our staff levels program and many of our staff members listen to books during their daily commutes. Most public libraries have mobile apps that allow free and easy access to many business books. Audible is another great option.


It’s time for your Great Leaders are Readers challenge

I challenge you to read at least one non-fiction book a month for a year and see what happens. I’m confident that you’ll see some great things unfold — both within yourself and in your practice.

If you’re looking for some great books to get started with, here’s a handful of my favorites:

  • The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber (Peter Weinstein recently co-authored a veterinary-specific edition of this book)
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen
  • If Disney Ran Your Hospital: 9½ Things You Would Do Different by Fred Lee
  • Good to Great by Jim Collins
  • Principles by Ray Dalio
  • The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
  • It’s Your Ship by D. Michael Abrashoff
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • Never Split the Difference by Christopher Voss
  • Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman
  • Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
  • The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

Truman was right; leaders are readers. Begin reading your way to excellent practice leadership today!

Ben Spinks, MBA, CVPM, SPHR is the Hospital Administrator at Tipp City Veterinary Hospital, Co-Founder at Veteos, and a veterinary practice consultant. He can be reached at [email protected] or on LinkedIn.

Ben Spinks

Ben Spinks

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