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The Secrets To Reading Faster And Absorbing Information Better

The Secrets To Reading Faster And Absorbing Information Better

As a history major, people always asked me how I could stand reading a boatload of books every week. While I answered them, they’d usually stare at my bookshelf and faint, much like I do when looking at equations on a whiteboard. What is my secret? It’s more obvious than you think: I never read any of my assigned books front to back. How, you ask, can you absorb information without reading the entirety of a book? Go on to discover some of the tricks people use to fool others into thinking they actually read those thick tomes sitting on their shelves…

1. Read the conclusion first.

A lot of authors like to speak in an arcane manner initially, throwing out long-winded, incomprehensible phrases for the first several pages of their book. It’s at this point that many fall off the wagon and throw whatever they’re reading to the ground in disappointment. The key is to cheat. Go to the end of the book first, and find the conclusion. Any writer worth their salt will provide the reader with a neat little summation of their argument and a quick review of the examples they used there. As they say on the website Spreeder:

You don’t really need to know the biography of the author, do you? So skip it. Then you can also skip the prologue in most cases – it usually contains a mere introduction to the book, and rarely contains information that will be of real use to you.

However, the Epilogue is a completely different matter – make sure you read it, because it is usually used to sum up the book, and can even provide extra information from later editions.

The other benefit of this is that all of that nonsense at the beginning of the book will make a lot more sense when you know exactly where the author is going. If you’re in a bind (read: supposed to have read a book for class tomorrow morning but never got around to it), reading just the conclusion may be sufficient enough to provide the illusion that you know what you’re talking about.

2. Use a highlighter.

One of the mistakes people make early on is that they give up highlighting, either because they end up marking too many things or were told by teachers that it’s a useless endeavor. The truth is that highlighting can be a great tool – if used correctly. You shouldn’t use it on everything, and you shouldn’t use it once every fifty pages. Instead, you’ll want to focus your efforts on highlighting the author’s summary statements. They’ll often ramble on and on about one point for several pages, and provide at the end a neat little bow tie shaped paragraph that definitively states the point they were trying to get across. Highlight this, and when you go back to skim the book, you’ll have everything you need to know ready at a glance. I can’t tell you how many times this helped me when going back to review a book for a test.

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3. Use the table of contents and subheadings.

It often surprises people, often college-aged kids, when they hear that most scholars often don’t read books in their entirety. Instead, what they usually do (and I’ve been told this by a professor) is check out the table of contents, and read the chapters that interest them or are relevant to their work. Or, they’ll skim through the book and stop when they see a subheading that interests them. This makes reading less of a chore, since you’re only reading what you want to read. You’ll still get the gist of the author’s overall point as well, since they’ll usually restate it in some way in every section of the book. This is a great technique to prevent “eyes moving down the page but not processing a single world” syndrome.

4. Be proactive instead of reactive.

Clay Johnson, author of The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption, has some interesting thoughts in regard to this point.

The number one piece of advice I have is to consume consciously and deliberately. Transform your relationship with information consumption into something that you do proactively, rather than something that happens to you. Once you do that, you can start applying frameworks.

This sort of goes back to what I was saying earlier. You shouldn’t be reading for the sake of reading, or trying to force your way through something that doesn’t speak to you.

Even in college, where professors assign readings to you, you can take an active role in what you’re reviewing. One of the ways to do this, as I said before, is to skip the parts that are boring to you, instead focusing all of your attention on sections that appeal to you.

Another way to get around this in college is to do your own research. Along with the class readings, find (professor approved) books related to your class that speak to your soul. I once took a class on 19th century Italy, and while I loved it, the readings could get a bit dry. What worked for me was finding a book on that era about a figure I found intriguing (Giuseppe Mazzini), and reading about that time period from the perspective of his life story. That made it easy for me, since all the history we were learning in class was now framed by a story that I could connect to.

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Reading isn’t something you’ll automatically have fun doing unless you put in the effort to find things you want to read.

5. Don’t try to read every word.

This was a mistake of mine for a long time. I had this idea in my head that if I read every word, I’d remember more information. Instead, I’d usually glaze over and die of mental boredom.

The truth of the matter is that most non-fiction books are formatted in a way that makes reading every word a redundant practice. The author only has so much to say, the most significant of which can be found in the conclusion. Most books are filled with evidence rather than profound points, which is good for you since, while evidence is interesting, it’s all proving the same thesis. Therefore, don’t be bogged down reading endless streams of evidence that prove the author’s argument, find a few that interest you and move onto the next chapter.

This goes for fictional reading too. Don’t quit because you get to a boring part in the book (e.g. those scenes in Game of Thrones where George R.R. Martin describes every little detail about the roasted duck his fictional characters are eating). Just skim it until you see something important. Sure, you might miss something, but it’s better that you keep moving than put the book down in frustration.

To close this point, I’ll quote Peter Economy (yup that’s his name, pretty cool huh?)

The one thing that helps me get through such material and actually learn something in the process is to skim it instead of trying to read it in detail. As I skim, I write down the major points in a notebook. After I’m done, I can then review the major points I’ve collected and have a pretty good idea of what I need to know.

 6. Write reader responses.

Bear with me before you start groaning. While most people hate writing, it really is one of the easiest ways to retain lots of information in a short amount of time. One of the things I used to do to remember the key points of a large book was to condense it into a single paged double-spaced reader response. In roughly two paragraphs, I’d outline the author’s argument, a few of their interesting pieces of evidence, and what I had a problem with/ what I thought they could have done better.

Like highlighting, writing reader responses provides you with a tool to quickly review the more impactful aspects of a book. When reviewing for a test, it’s much easier to pull up your reader responses than to fervently flip through all your books again.

7. Discuss what you read with others.

As much as I dislike working in groups, there’s no question that talking about readings with friends or classmates will help you retain information. Indeed, back in college I had a study buddy, and we’d discuss pretty much everything we read. We often joked about some of the author’s points, or certain pieces of evidence they used. Surprisingly, when it was time to take the final, I often remembered complicated sections from the book by thinking first of the jokes I’d made up with my partner.

Some of us are auditory learners, and, as author Eric Holtzclaw states, they “comprehend best when [hearing] content and new information.” Therefore, talking to a friend about what you’ve read is a great tool in terms of solidifying your knowledge on that subject. It’s even better if you can joke about it, because then you’re condensing that information into something you find extremely relatable, which only makes it easier to recall in the future.

8. Jot down discussion questions while reading.

This is something I picked up when I was a teaching assistant. Even if you aren’t guiding a class in the discussion of a reading, it helps to keep a notepad by your side while going through a difficult text. When you see something puzzling or disagreeable, simply pause and write down a question related to the issue you are having. The key is to never assume that the author is correct; you want to keep your mind engaged in what you’re reading, and staying critical is an effective way to do this.

This works for both fiction and non-fiction books. Basically, you’ll be asking things like this:

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  • Why does the author phrase things like that?
  • Does this piece of evidence make sense?
  • Does that paragraph reveal a bias of some kind?
  • How does that point tie into the author’s overall argument?
  • What audience are they speaking to?

They can become more complicated than these; it all depends on what you’re reading really.

These are all of the tips that I can come up with at the moment! I’m sure there are more out there, so if you find any feel free to comment about them below. To summarize, improving your reading and comprehension skills is all about becoming an active participant. You need to find what you want to read, and make an effort to try and retain some of its more significant points. With luck, you’ll be speeding your way through several-hundred page odysseys in no time!

 

 

 

Featured photo credit: Glasses_on_book_101.JPG/MorgueFile via mrg.bz

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

5 Key Traits of a Charismatic Leadership

5 Key Traits of a Charismatic Leadership

If you’ve ever been in a room with someone and found yourself wanting to be around the person more, to hear more of what the individual was saying, thinking or doing, chances are you have been in the company of someone with charisma.

If you analyze your experience working with different leaders, surely you can pinpoint at least one, possibly more, leaders who were charismatic.

You may not be able to describe charisma precisely, but you likely know it when you see it. Charisma is a compelling charm or inviting persona that can inspire the commitment and devotion of others. It is a mysterious attraction that is challenging to quantify but highly difficult to resist.

The premise of charismatic leadership is to tap into a leader’s charisma. Charismatic leadership is a leadership style that utilizes a leader’s authenticity, communications prowess and inspiration to pull out the best in others. While some leaders believe the key to getting their teams to perform is by offering consistent feedback or putting them through one training after another, charismatic leaders believe that they are the key to improved performance. They believe that people respond well to their example and inspiration. No one does this better than leaders with charisma.

Charismatic leaders are like magnets – they draw people to them and bring out the best of those around them. Charismatic leaders have an inviting personality, a depth of wisdom and a command of language that makes their communication like a mouth-watering appetizer: It leaves diners wanting more.

Charismatic leadership is a tool in a leader’s arsenal. For some people, it is naturally the first tool they reach for. Those leaders may be charismatic without effort, and they tend to find themselves relying on this resource often. Others may have the ability to rise to the occasion and showcase charismatic leadership, though it may not be their first instinct. For other executives, charismatic leadership takes effort and intention.

Enough with the suspense already: What are the key traits of charismatic leadership?

Here are 5 key identifiers you’ll find in charismatic leadership:

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1. Charismatic Leadership Is Uplifting

Charismatic leaders are uplifting. They can walk into a storm and spot the rainbow on the other side. They can sit amid chaos yet be completely assured that all will be well.

If a person is experiencing a whirlwind of emotions and engages with a charismatic leader, the individual will leave with a sense of calm. Charismatic leaders see the trouble, but they perceive opportunity. Their perspective is uplifting, and their optimism is contagious.

For instance, I was helping to manage a leadership transition at an organization that was planned yet stressful. The new leader inherited a new company and lots of unexpected challenges. There was tension throughout the senior staff, and that unease was palpable among the staff. Despite the challenges, the executive was filled with hope and communicated that hope consistently and persuasively. The minute the leader walked into the room and began to speak, staff members were able to see possibility.

2. Charismatic Leadership Is Marked by Communications Prowess

One of charismatic leaders’ most defining traits is oral communication. Charismatic leaders are gifted communicators. Their words are seasoned with grace, their message carefully tailored to the audience, and their selection of examples reflect a surgeon’s precision.

When I think of the charismatic leaders whom I’ve known in my lifetime, few are more defining than the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II.

When I met Rev. Dr. Barber in spring 2016, I had already experienced my fair share of union protests and thought I knew everything I needed to know about organizing resistance movements; I’d already spent most of my life in the evangelical church, so I was quite familiar with meeting pastors and leaders who could rouse a sleeping audience to full-scale hysteria.

Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the leader I encountered. Rev. Dr. Barber had a theological perspective that welcomed all, not in a shallow “we shall all overcome” manner, but in a reflective manner. He was the first faith leader I had met who merged his faith with his religion. As a long-time communicator, I’d warn him that the place to deliver sermons was in the pulpit, not in front of editorial boards or in the presence of media. He talked about a moral fusion movement and about making decisions that reflected our deepest moral and constitutional values.

It’s been six years since that initial meeting, and his star has continued to rise. He’s published two books and will soon release a third. He has been recognized as a MacArthur Genius, and he’s a senior lecturer at Union Theological Seminary. He is invited to communities and into moral fights all over the world because of his vision, his work and his ability to relate to people from all walks of life.

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By all intents and purposes, he embodies charismatic leadership.

3. Charismatic Leadership Is Courageous

Charismatic leaders are courageous. They make decisions that could be unpopular in the present but are necessary and even respected in the future.

For instance, screenwriter Adele Lim recently stepped away from work on the “Crazy Rich Asians” sequel due to a grotesque pay disparity. She was paid $100,000 for her work on the project while her white, male coworker was paid $800,000. This was a courageous yet difficult move.

First, many well-regarded and competent writers may never get the opportunity to write for a major series. Next, in disclosing the pay disparity, Lim not only turned down work, she acknowledged publicly what had to be privately painful; she was paid one-eighth of what her coworker was making.

There is a certain sense of shame when an individual discusses pain. Lim bucked the shame and courageously stood her ground. I am confident that Asian women, and all women, will benefit from the stance she took.

Another example along these lines is Oscar-winning actress and comedian Mo’Nique. When Mo’Nique urged a boycott of Netflix in 2018, she did so for what she termed gender and race discrimination. She says she was offered $500,000 for a comedy special, while Netflix allegedly offered actress Amy Schumer $13 million.

For people who have never come close to making half a million dollars, I imagine hearing that an actress turned down $500,000 and then asked her followers to boycott the streaming company may have been a bit much. The Root reported:[1]

“For 24 months after the special premiered, Mo’Nique would not be able to crack any of the jokes she did in the Netflix special anywhere else, and when the 24 months were up – Netflix would have first dibs on those jokes, too. So basically, Netflix wanted her to take $500,000 to not be able to do what she is in the business of doing in the first place, and she was supposed to be OK with that?”

In a display of resolve and courage, Mo’Nique refused the offer. I can only imagine how difficult doing so may have been.

The truth is, when people talk about admirable values, courage always seems to be included in the list. One of the reasons this trait stands out is because it is difficult to consistently practice. Some people start out with the intention of being courageous and then succumb to the pressure of the public, their social media followers, friends, employer or others in positions of authority in their lives.

Charismatic leaders are courageous. They are bold, and they are willing to take principled positions, even to others’ chagrin.

4. Charismatic Leadership Is Original

Charismatic leaders are original. Rather than being a carbon copy of others, they break the mold. Because originality is so rare, it is refreshing when we see it.

Charismatic leaders’ originality often shines through because they are comfortable with who they are and believe that their natural self is their best self. They will not be convinced that they are not good enough, and their belief in themselves enables them to be original, which frees others to do the same. They have a unique way of communicating and an uncommon way of interpreting common occurrences.

5. Charismatic Leaders Are Likeable

I was speaking with a long-term political operative about why some candidates soar and others can barely get their feet off the ground. On paper, the candidates may be similar in terms of policy positions, background and accomplishments. Yet one of the candidates is incredibly popular, leaving audiences eating out of the individual’s hands, while the others struggle immensely to be noticed and taken seriously.

My friend told me that it comes down to likability. People want to elect someone whom they wish they could be like. They want to elect their role model or hero.

The same is true with charismatic leaders. Charismatic leaders are likeable: They reflect the aspirations of the people drawn to them. One incredibly important trait of charismatic leaders is likeability. At their core, they are likable.

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For extroverts, these individuals are the people you’d like to go get a drink with. For introverts, the charismatic leaders are those whom you’d like to hang with if you could get over your desire to be alone.

This feature is so important that I have seldom met many charismatic leaders who aren’t likeable. Likability is the hand and charisma is the glow: The two naturally accompany one another.

What’s More a Charismatic Leader Needs?

While charismatic leadership is admirable, it is one tool in a leader’s toolbox. A charismatic leader without vision, a talented team of professionals with differing skills sets or decisiveness will be unable to lead a team through the company’s various life stages.

Importantly, if charismatic leadership isn’t accompanied by a commitment to ethics and practical knowledge, it can be very dangerous. A charismatic leader who lacks integrity can destroy people, companies and communities. Think about some of the world’s deepest sins – genocide of native people, slavery, eugenics of black and Latinx women, the mass murder of Jewish people – that were enabled by people who may have been charismatic but also devoid of moral center.

Quite simply, it is irresponsible to practice charisma in isolation of integrity, ethics and a genuine concern for other people.

Final Thoughts

Anyone can practice charismatic leadership. Leadership styles are a lot like muscles. Each of us uses some muscles more than others, and the muscles we use tend to be stronger.

Leadership theory and implementation is the same way. Based on our history, personality and career training, some leaders have spent more time exercising authoritative leadership styles, which may come naturally. This doesn’t mean that a leader can’t change, but changing happens with awareness, practice and intention.

In pulling all of this together, charismatic leadership is powerful. It is admirable too. Most people can work to become a more charismatic leader but should do so while being mindful of the other elements of leadership that help them be a more effective and well-rounded leader.

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Featured photo credit: Kobu Agency via unsplash.com

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