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The Never-Ending Cycle of Learning

Brent Emler
Sep 25, 2016

I am proud of my daughter Ava for a million reasons, but the reason I admire most is her commitment to reading. When she wakes up in the morning and comes out of her room, she’s reading. When she eats breakfast; she’s reading. When she brushes her teeth, she’s reading. She is always reading. She reads so much that sometimes it gets in the way of her other responsibilities. Sometimes I have to tell her to stop reading so she can go take care of her chores. We started reading A Tale of Two Cities to her when she was only six-months old and have continued reading with her almost every night since then. And for the last 10 years, we have been telling her that old saying, “Readers are leaders.” Apparently, the quote is attributed to Harry S. Truman who said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” I think we all instinctively know why “Leaders are readers,” but why is this really true? What was Harry Truman telling us so many years ago?

Readers are leaders
Most of you know Dave Savage from Mortgage Coach. What many may not know is his voracious appetite for reading personal enrichment books. If you watch some of his videos or see images of him at his desk, you will see he is constantly surrounded by books. I challenge all of the readers of this article to e-mail Dave and ask him if he’s read a particular book on customer service, brand building or leadership. I’ll bet you a dollar to a doughnut that he’s read the book. What we also know about Dave is he is a leader, through and through. I have watched him deftly lead his organization with tremendous success, but even more importantly, Dave is a thought leader in the mortgage industry. This is where you and I can learn to grow as a leader. Intrinsic to the position of being a leader is being knowledgeable—we should embrace this fact. Dave has terrific leadership instincts, but his knowledge is what sets him apart. His ability to tap into those countless volumes of books to provide clear, thoughtful direction or advice trumps all of his innate leadership skills.

Vince Lombardi said, “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” Dave puts time in: Nights, weekends, on the plane, at the hotel when on business travel instead of watching TV. The only way he has read as much as he has about business is if he reads like Ava does: All the time.

I have also experienced the power of reading … the commitment to excellence. I will admit though, I have not been as diligent lately as I was early in my sales career. When I was getting started in sales, I thought I would be able to wing it—just be personable and knowledgeable about my product and I’d have success. I was wrong … dead wrong. I had no idea what I was doing and it showed. Three months in to my sales career, I was floundering and was on the path to failure which scared me to death. So I decided to start reading about the profession of sales. I decided I would put the hard work in to become a real salesperson, a professional. I started with Tom Hopkin’s How to Master the Art of Selling Anything and then Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and Winning Through Intimidation (which is not exactly what it sounds like). I read those books and many more. I also listened to tapes. Yes, I said tapes, in my truck wherever I went. For about two years, I immersed myself in the art of selling. By putting in the time to educate myself by reading constantly, I went from the bottom of the sales ladder to the top at my company. I became a leader within the organization relatively quickly, all because I became a committed reader.

Here are some examples of famous leaders and their reading habits:

►Steve Jobs had an “inexhaustible interest” in William Blake.
►Nike founder Phil Knight so reveres his library that in it, you have to take off your shoes and bow.
►Bill Gates reads about 50 books per year, which breaks down to one per week.
►Mark Cuban reads more than three hours each day.
►Elon Musk is an avid reader and when asked how he learned to build rockets, he said “I read books.”
►Mark Zuckerberg resolved to read a book every two weeks throughout 2015.
►Warren Buffett estimates that 80 percent of his working day is dedicated to reading.

Why does reading make us better leaders?
Reading makes us better thinkers: Reading provides us with the opportunity to have new experiences, learn new ways of thinking, and it provides general information to keep perspective and seize opportunities. All of this information and processing power is presented to us in a format that can be consumed in a few short hours. I have never been a whaler, but after a few hours with Moby Dick, I think I might be able to get by on a whaling vessel … maybe not, but I would surely have a better chance than if I hadn’t read it, right? The point, though, isn’t to learn how to actually be or do the things people do in books, but to learn from their experiences and knowledge and then apply it to our own lives.

Reading improves our people skills: One of the most important qualities in a leader is emotional intelligence, which is basically a fancy way of saying “people skills.” Leaders have a strong ability to decipher how those they interact with are feeling and what is motivating them. Reading, especially novels, biographies and memoirs, allows us to see the world through another person’s eyes. The insights into human nature that reading provides are invaluable to understanding the people around us. Knowing what “makes people tick” is essential to help create organizational alignment, motivating groups of people, and setting organizational goals.

Reading helps us master communication: Words matter and reading uniquely expands our vocabulary. All of my favorite words I know I learned from reading.  How about you? Don’t you just love seeing a new word in print and looking it up to find out what it means? Everyday conversations and entertainment channels, like television, rarely add to our vocabulary. And using the right words, for the right audience, at the right time is a key to successful leadership, isn’t it? Precise verbiage imparts a feeling of confidence in the speaker, and more importantly, provides clarity in a conversation or presentation.

Oh the places you’ll go
One of my favorite books of all time is Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. It’s inspiring and practical, and fills the mind with the wonder of what could be. Consider the following line which offered me the opportunity to teach my young daughter what deft and dexterous means: “You'll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You'll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that life's a great balancing act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.”

In that sentence, Dr. Seuss described many of life’s great challenges and offered sage advice about how to navigate its sometimes murky waters. In his inimitable way, he was telling my four-year-old daughter that life is difficult but that’s okay. One needs to be cognizant of the variety of life. Moderation and self-discipline are essential. Always be true to yourself. All of that in one simple sentence. A single line in a children’s book offers a lifetime of wisdom.

Speaking of Dr. Seuss, in one of his finest works, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!, Dr. Seuss said the wise words: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” I believe he meant it literally and figuratively. I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! was one of the staples of our nighttime reading rituals. My wife and I feel so blessed to have shared a love of reading with our daughter. As parents, we often wonder if we’re “doing it right,” but when it comes to our mutual love of reading, we have no doubt we are.

Let’s all learn from the great Dr. Seuss and get out there and start reading.

Brent Emler is director of sales and marketing at, a customizable marketing software provider exclusive to the mortgage industry. He may be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.

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