A couple of years ago, I was wandering through my university library’s annual book sale when I came across a cache of books on leadership and administration all sitting together on a table as if they’d been donated as a group. Examples included:
- Principle-Centered Leadership (Covey)
- Organization Theory: Selected Readings (Pugh)
- The Art of Administration (Eble)
- Peak Performance for Deans and Chairs (Roper and Deal)
I bought nearly all of them.
As I thumbed through each volume back in my office, I noticed the same name written in ballpoint pen on a couple of the inside covers. They all seemed to have belonged to the same person, a faculty member who’d recently retired after chairing her department for many years.
This professor was known on campus as a skilled teacher and a capable, effective administrator. I’d worked with her on a handful of occasions and had always been impressed with her administrative and leadership skills. She seemed to really have her ducks in a row—to know what she was doing.
But success leaves clues. Looking through her former library, it dawned on me: She was a good administrator because she’d read a bunch of books on how to be a good administrator. And she hadn’t just skimmed them—many were heavily marked and highlighted.
It’s so easy not to “read the books” and instead to lay success at the feet of talent. Talent plays a role, but most people who are highly skilled owe those skills to hard work over time and a willingness to do the simple things that most people don’t do.
Talent is romantic, and believing in its supreme importance gives us somewhere to hide. It’s tempting to ask ourselves, “Am I talented enough?” because it’s easy to convince ourselves that the answer is no.
Here’s a much better question (three, actually):
“Am I doing the little things that lead to success?”
“Am I putting in the hours?”
“Am I reading the books?”