Updated: May 4, 2021
Not a big reader? Don’t scroll past this post; neither am I.
Have you ever had someone you respect recommend a book to you? Have you ever had an important meeting with someone who has written a book themselves? Most of us could answer “yes” to those questions. Now, how many of you have actually followed through on reading said books?
My guess is there are way less of us who can answer that one in the affirmative. The simple act of knocking out a few chapters can elevate you to superhero-level professional status. It may be the single most effective networking tool in your arsenal. Allow me to explain how and why.
In the private sector, you likely will not be obligated to digest and internalize bulk text like you did in college or during your professional military education, so is it really worth your time? In a few words, of course it is, but not for the reasons you may assume.
Let’s start with my two simple rules:
If you are about to have a meeting or phone conference with someone who has written a book, dedicate time to reading it before you connect. A Google search will yield all the information you need and should absolutely be part of your preparation. If she/he has written multiple books pick either the bestseller, the most recent, or whichever is most relevant to your connection.
If someone you respect recommends a book, acquire and read it within one month, then follow up.
In both cases, ideally you should read the entire book. Feel free to skim occasionally, but keep that to a minimum. It reduces your chance of responding with ignorance if questioned about it.
The benefits of following my simple rules, as they pertain to network development and fostering relationships:
It makes someone feel important. Books take a long time to write, and the publishing process can be a pain. It takes a huge personal investment to produce a book, and you validate your contact’s work by taking time out of your busy schedule to read it. If he/she recommended the book (but did not write it) the element of flattery is still there, as you evidently found his/her opinion to be so valuable that you went out and acted on it.
This alludes to two of the immutable truths of networking (which I will expand upon in future articles): people will like you more if you allow them to talk about themselves, and people will like you more when you ask them for their opinion or advice. You truly want to get to know your contacts, and there is something you can stand to learn from anyone. Come loaded with quality questions, show your genuine interest, and watch your professional relationship flourish.
It opens doors. You can use this approach as a way to get a first meeting or as an excuse to reach out for a follow-up connection. I have personally used this tactic to land initial sit-downs with folks that are notoriously challenging to nail down:
“Hi Jill, I just finished your book, which was recommended to me by a colleague [name drop here if you are mutually connected on LinkedIn or otherwise]. I’m a big fan! I particularly enjoyed/learned/was fascinated by ________. If convenient, I would love an opportunity to ask you a few follow up questions. Coffee on me?”
I have also used it as a way to follow up. Always have a reason to get back in touch. Sending a “How are you?” email without delving a little deeper can come off as annoying unless you are close friends. Instead:
“Hi John, last we spoke, you recommended that I check out ________. Well, I just finished it, and I can’t thank you enough. I particularly enjoyed/learned/was fascinated by ________. What are your thoughts on ________? I’d love to connect and see how you felt about ________. Coffee on me?”
It is impressive. There is a 92% chance you will be the only professional contact that has ever followed through on a book recommendation. I once had a meeting with a gentleman that referenced an obscure passage from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, so I grabbed the audiobook (which totally counts, by the way) and listened to it before our next meeting. I will never forget the look on his face when I told him that I had read it, had seen how the passage he referenced and a few others paralleled my situation, and thanked him for the guidance. That solidified our friendship, and he has since connected me with some fantastic professionals.
Who has time to sit down and read a book? Well, you do if you truly desire to set yourself apart professionally.
Who has time to sit down and read a book? Well, you do if you truly desire to set yourself apart professionally. If you are text-averse, audiobooks can be your best friend -- in the car, at the gym, or walking to meetings. If you like to ingest your content in a more traditional fashion, carving out a few minutes is not that challenging. 6 pages a day will tackle most books in a month. Considering the average American reads at a rate of 2 minutes per page (if we are talking about non-technical material), it follows that you simply need to find 12 minutes each day. Get up a few minutes early, or spend less time on your phone.
I would not consider reading my first choice for leisure activity, but I believe strongly in this method and have used it countless times with astounding results. Beyond the strategic advantage you gain from your follow-through, there are a few common-sense ancillary benefits: you may actually like the book, you may actually learn something, and you may actually grow to enjoy reading and make it part of your routine. And hey, the content will undoubtedly be more entertaining than your professional military education publications or college textbooks were. At the very least, you are giving your most important muscle a good workout.
Have you had success with any of these principles? In what ways has reading helped you professionally? Share your thoughts in the comments.