“The people you meet and books you read will determine where you will be in five years...”
To this day, I remember Dr Towns’ exact words. I was an undergraduate student when he first shared that nugget of wisdom and it’s stayed with me ever since. Honestly, I don’t recall anything else he said, or even what class it was, but I remember that lesson as if it were yesterday.
Perhaps those particular words locked in my mind because he reiterated them week after week — or perhaps it’s because they plainly make sense.
Either way, Dr. Towns would be disappointed, because his advice is rarely followed. Rather than venture outside their comfort zone, many people stay with what and who they know. Perhaps you’re one of them — you’ve built a network and a collection of friends who have become your “circle”.
Don’t get me wrong, maintaining relationships is important, but so is meeting new people. They bring new experiences to your life, push you to discover more about yourself, and encourage you to see the world differently — if you let them.
Of course, that’s only half of Dr Towns’ message, but don’t even get me started on reading. Scanning headlines, social media posts and WhatsApp messages is not what he meant when he encouraged my classmates and I to read. He meant books. We should all take the time to get to know a topic, not just the summary of it — we have to chase the thread all the way to the end.
“The people you meet and the books you read...” — Dr Towns’ words are truer today than when I first heard them. Yet many leaders are too rooted in their current knowledge and existing relationships to heed the advice. One of the problems with this — for there are many — is that it cripples leadership preparation.
Here, I have to hold my hands up and confess that my annual book reading is 20 per cent of what it used to be. Why? Because I’ve allowed small windows of insight to distract me from my broader pursuit of knowledge.
A 140-character input is good for building breadth of information but, as senior leaders, we need depth and time to think. So, hoping to start a trend, I have vowed to reduce my consumption of byte-sized opinions and free-up time to read meaningfully.
This might seem a light-hearted topic, but actually, I’m fearful of the impact of social media on our personal and professional growth. Not only has it become a substitute for reading, it has reduced relationships to empty clicks or taps on a touchscreen.
Spend time with people who stretch you and allow them to challenge your thinking and force you to the depths of your own understanding. Believe me, your mind and soul will thank you for it. But here’s the tricky part: to meet new people you need to make room for them.
A friend of mine does an annual Facebook friend purge, “unfriending” anyone that he didn’t talk to or who didn’t add value that year. That may be extreme, but the principle of reviewing who you spend time with is priceless.
Where you will be in five years, depends on you. If you want a different future, you need to become different.
“What got you here, won’t get you there” remains a popular phrase. But the question is, what will? What do you need to change?
Progressive leadership requires dislodging yourself from what you know today and embracing what you could know. To get there, prioritise real reading.
Then, when you pick up a book, pick up a pen. Write your thoughts. Frame your questions. Challenge your thinking, instead of just flipping a page.
Make the words live by allowing them to shape you — and the same goes people. Invite new people into your life.
Who knows? They may just surprise you. Enriching your life and your leadership starts with great people and a good book.
Tommy Weir is the CEO of the EMLC Leadership Ai Lab and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.