Do business leaders read business books?

September 22, 2010

Do business leaders read business books? It sounds like a no-brainer, but the answer may not be the obvious one.

A student at a leadership seminar recently expressed surprise that any business leader would not read business books. I rather unthinkingly offered the opinion that quite a few of them probably didn’t. I added for good measure that I’ve also met Business leaders who have little time either for book learning or ‘what they teach you at business school’.  A little research and I still haven’t come up with any serious evidence that answers the question.

Does it matter?

The question is posed in a rather clumsy way, but it does hint at an important point. There is a big industry in how to do it management books. Books on how to become a successful leader is part of that flourishing industry. Bookshops at air terminals have their fair share of the latest best-sellers. But there is still the suspicion that these might be OK for the wannabe leader, but real leaders wouldn’t need to read any of that stuff.

Us academics have a bias in favour of reading. Maybe it is counter-intuitive to consider that business leaders can get by without reading books, or without a formal business education. There’s plenty of evidence that the latter assumption is just plain wrong. Never mind the leaders who strugggle with dyslexia, or even in minority of cases with illiteracy, or the favoured heirs to some family business who have leadership thrust upon them. Some other leaders have a suspicion of what they see as business school mumbo-jumbo. “I didn’t get where I am by reading business books” the character from Reggie Perrin might have roared.

One-minute guides

Thinking about it, the popularity of various ‘one minute guides’ suggests that busy people are prepared to take on board their information needs in pre-digested chunks. The situation is not helped by the dire quality of the advice offered in many of the books published on business in general and leadership in particular.

So there we have it. Another leadership question I don’t know the answer to, but would very much like to find out. Any ideas?