From the Readers’ Hub Report Desk, we bring you another insightful interaction on Social Media Monk.
On Mondy, May 4, 2020, Dr. Sharif Mahmoud Khalid was hosted by the moderator, Abdul Samad Danaa and they discussed the topic, “the impact of reading on leadership”.
Enjoy the discussion!
Danaa opened the discussion with a befitting quote and introduction.

I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading. However much sooner one tires of anything than a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not, an excellent library
Jane Austen
Reading as we all agree is central to developing human capacity. It is very essential in our daily lives and even more important to those who lead us. In our world today, leadership is cause and everything else effect. It is therefore imperative to seek to analyse how reading influences leadership. To wit, a leadership crisis is really a leadership crisis.
Let’s sit back as I welcome Dr Sharif Mahmoud Khalid, an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield, to help us digest the impact of reading on leadership.
Danaa: Dr Khalid, you are welcome!
Dr. Khalid: Many thanks, Samad. I’m thrilled to be here with you all!
Danaa: Great, let’s start with a basis, why should leaders read?
Dr. Khalid: Interesting philosophical question to respond via a philosophical window. If anyone has read Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, he likened untutored or unread men to slaves chained to the cave unable to turn their heads and bind them to burn a fire. This scenario paints a picture of a situation unread leaders can be in. So to add to the saying that travel and see, read and see!
Danaa: Wonderful! From this, I am inclined to accept that reading simply opens leaders to insights and knowledge for leading.
Dr. Khalid: Very much so, books have a cinematic effect, books are homes, counseling centres, clinics, psychiatric homes, restaurants, religious homes, therapeutic hubs, and anything one can think of to get humans going. Books mould the mind to embrace progress, to appreciate impact and results. They are as well windows of compassion and appreciation of unconscious biases that is needed to balance every leader’s emotional intelligence.
Danaa: Very revealing! In seeking to balance the emotional intelligence of leaders, therefore, what should leaders read? Must they read strictly on leadership or they ought to engage in irrelevant reading (reading broadly on so many areas that do not have a direct link with one’s area or job) as well?
Dr. Khalid: Well, there is nothing like irrelevant reading but they could be bad content. I really don’t believe in anything like leadership books etc. Leadership is tacit and often nurtured over a long period of time. One of the strands of its growth and development is reading which lasts a lifetime so there is nothing like specific reading to a reader or leader. But one ought to be guided by what she or he consumes in terms of content. Read any and everything. Read! Read!! Read!!!
Danaa: Well noted except to say that irrelevant reading is a new coining given to a read that transcends one’s boundaries of specialty. A very cogent response I must say!
Dr. Khalid: Fair enough.
Danaa: In effect therefore, Dr Khalid, how does reading impact on leadership?
Dr. Khalid: I would say reading is leadership. When readers lead they lead great. There’s no leadership strategist on the globe who can get to work without adequate reading. Great leaders are guided by history and to know history one must read. The clergy must read to guide us on the right and righteous path. So the impact of reading cannot be quantified. It is very impactful yet ‘impact-less’
Danaa: Members, I must say these responses are Pristine Sheffield responses. The verve is simply unique. Dr Khalid, in Africa and in Ghana to be precise, many state institutions tend to perform abysmally and others simply run into closure. These developments are largely attributed to failed institutional leadership. In what ways can reading empower leaders of Corporate Ghana to stem the tide and write success stories?
Dr. Khalid: Through fiction we read about the rise and fall of conglomerates, as well as great corporate titans. Through memoirs we read same or similar. Our religious texts, regardless of faith contain stories of great kings and queens and their evolution or demise through the leadership landscape. All these when read adequately bakes adrenaline and tactic into what can make a successful corporate leader. Sorry to say the business books of ‘ how to get rich in 100 days’ etc, may not be of great help as there exist no rule books of leaders.
Leadership 101: the best rule to leadership is by being a good leader and that comes with reading.
Danaa: Flowing from this, there is that tacit disapproval in reading life or leadership manuals as you always call them. If so, how do we reconcile your call for people to read and read and read yet in another breath you seem to be calling for selectivity when it comes to certain books. How so?
Dr. Khalid: The caveat was to say be guided by content. Yes there may be that tacit disapproval on ‘Manual Reads’ so to say. But the import is not to say they should not be read as some may contain life changing values and practices. One man/woman’s story might not be the others. If Dangote, for instance, writes about 100 rules to become rich without the background that he emerged out of a fabulously rich family and was offered an interest free family loan to start off, anyone reading that might be blind to his background which was the greatest influencer, support and fertile ground for him. So a fixation on, say, the 100 rules without the background bit would mislead a reader dedicated to this all hailed book in his/her quest to becoming rich or an astute businessman man.
NB: This is hypothetical for the benefit of our engagement.
Danaa: Interesting brief. Let’s turn our attention to nations. Nations tend to have varying interests and competitive advantage in the global economic space. How can reading effectively position African leaders on the global stage to engage in prudent negotiations for the maximum benefit of nations and the continent?
Dr. Khalid: Well, when you look at global competitive rankings, the marked phrase is often literacy and numeracy skills. Reading falls under literacy without which a nation is doomed (pardon the pessimism) or less competitive without readers. To grow a civic society, it starts with indoctrination. Indoctrination is instilled via reading. A stock of a nation state’s leaders must come from its citizenry. When the citizenry is not well informed and civic enough then problems begin to set in. Standards are low etc.
Imagine an African leader who goes to engage or negotiate trade deals with China without the scintilla of knowledge on some aspects of China’s history and culture? That will be Africa at a less advantageous position. So to be competitive, reading must just not be encouraged among African leaders but inculcated in young Africans for they are tomorrow’s leaders.
Danaa: Great. Taking your last bit in the response above, a publication in the New York Times unearthed that readers get insights reading the stories of others through memoirs and autobiographies. We live in a country in which our leaders hardly write their stories for young Africans who are the leaders of tomorrow. How can we get our leaders to write their stories and show us the way?
Khalid: I reckon that trend is beginning to change these days. Dr Obed Asamoah has a very interesting memoir, Sam Okudzeto, Justice D F Annan, Chinua Achebe there was a Country (counts as one), Agya Koo Nimo ( the legendary musician and guitarist), President Mahama’, Akenten AppiahMinka, Mandela, etc. So in effect there’s a lot coming out of the continent. We must search for more of these while encouraging the rest to write. Some memoirs are ghost written. So the writers amongst us can take these up as challenges while earning some extra income on the side.
Danaa: That’s true. We have a few but we surely need much more.
Time for members to pose some questions.
ALHAJI HAFIZ DAUDA wanted to know the amount of basic reading required vis-à-vis the enormity of responsibility on leaders’ shoulders.
Dr Khalid: It will depend on the leader’s dairy. It is for instance on record that President Obama read 30 minutes daily before bedtime. Lee Kuan Yew was also noted for taking annual leave off work during which he would travel to a leading global university to spend time at its library. He usually referred to this as a ‘battery charger’ for he returned to the Presidency fully charged to continue work. So it varies and depends on the individual. You assess yourself and determine which works best for you. Some leaders read on their commute to work others on long haul flights. So it is all about the individual and what works best for you.
Danaa: Dr Khalid, it has been a revealing encounter. What are your concluding remarks?
Dr Khalid: Read, read, read, read, read, read…
Danaa: Thanks so much for your time. Keep the flame alive!
Readers, this has been an interesting encounter and until the next time, keep reading, commenting and sharing! I am your reporter, Kwasi Mensah Nyarko aka Monsieur Pk. Bonjour!
God bless!