How to Read a Book for Transformation

July 14, 2011 - Mac Lake - Leadership, Personal Growth
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For years I used to set a goal of reading 52 books between January 1 and December 31.  And for several years I accomplished that goal.  I still think that’s a good discipline for a young leader, but as I grew older something inside told me to slow down.  I sensed I was at a stage where I needed to focus less on information and focus more on transformation.  So I started reading fewer books. But that still wasn’t having the growth impact I was longing for.

It took a while but I finally developed a 6 Question System for reading that seemed to take me deeper into the content and impacted my thinking in a more tangible way. Today when I read a book I start by reading the table of contents and dividing it into sections.  Sometimes a section is one chapter, sometimes it’s 2 or 3 chapters.  But I define the specific chunks in the book I will apply these questions too.  I find this more helpful than applying all six questions to every single chapter.  As I read here are the six questions that force me to read that section on a deeper level.  I hope you find this as helpful as I have.

  • What stood out to you the most? I don’t actually write the answer to this question.  But I answer this by using a highlighter to mark every sentence that stood out to me.  In a 10-page chapter this may be as many as 40-60 sentences that stood out as important or as key thoughts.
  • What challenged your thinking the most? Now that I’ve finished reading the chapter I go back and read my highlights and put a “C” by no more than three highlights.  Next I write down in my journal (Evernote) the answer to what challenged me the most.  Narrowing it down to just three things that challenged me and writing the answer to that question makes me process the content at a whole new depth.
  • What did you question or disagree with? It’s always tempting to skip over this question.  Many times we don’t pause long enough to question the content of what we just read.   So I look back over my highlights and put a “?” beside one or two things I questioned or disagreed with. Next I write in my journal what or why I disagreed.  Or if I didn’t disagree with anything I write out what questions were raised in my mind.  This forces me to look at the content from a different angle and process even deeper.
  • What 3-5 action steps will you take as a result of your reading? Next I write down what I’m going to do as a result of reading the content of the chapter or section.  If you don’t put into practice the principles you learned those principles will never be translated into new behaviors.  So force yourself to find a few action steps you will take.  Remember there is no transformation without application.
  • What area did my reading reveal where I need to grow? Now to really get the subject material into your soul think though an area of Personal Growth the reading revealed for you.  As I look back over my highlights I put a “-“ beside a section that reveals a needed growth area of my life.  Then I write out where and how I need to grow in that area.  So as you review your reading section ask yourself:  Did it highlight a specific area of weakness that I need to work on?  Did it reveal a poor attitude, an undeveloped skill, a bad habit, a relational roadblock that needs to be dealt with?  If we really want to change we’ll take the time to identify those specific areas of growth potential in our own life.
  • What area of strength did this reading affirm about my leadership? Finally, I look for strengths that the chapter affirmed in my life or leadership.  As I read back over the highlights I put a “+” beside the section that revealed what I am good at. We become better leaders when we focus on developing our strengths. So make sure you allow the content you’re reading to affirm the positive aspects of your leadership.

So grab a good book that you think will challenge you to grow as a leader.  Buy a journal or open up your Evernote. And don’t forget, this method of reading requires greater patience but results in bigger payoff.  Hey, give it a try and let me know what you think.

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Mac Lake

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2 responses to How to Read a Book for Transformation

  1. Great post Mac!! Seeing that I just finished #77 for the year and it’s only July, maybe… just maybe… I should consider slowing down and allow God to use more of this for transformation 🙂 I do the highlighting, notes, challenge points, but it’s rare that I ask the latter three questions you mention. And if I don’t ask the action steps one, you already know as a coach how that works out. I’ll ask these questions of the one I finished last night – Small Groups Big Impact (superb book, btw).

    Oh, and thanks so much for being a “virtual coach” by both encouraging and asking great questions on your blog. Much appreciated 🙂

  2. thought this was a fantastic post. always looking for ways to learn better. thanks.

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