Pause: What is the most important skill you need?

Pause: What is the most important skill you need?

If you want to be successful, you’ll need many specialised business skills, but probably the most important one will surprise you: it’s the capacity to READ! Yes, READ!

You must develop the capacity to read, and to read FAST, and by this I don’t mean basic literacy. This is why I talk of “capacity.” If you’re on this platform, you’re someone who has more than basic literacy skills. You are the next generation of leaders.

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “(Great) leaders are readers.”

You must have the capacity to read a lot, if you want to be successful. All the greatest leaders I’ve ever met, from any walk of life, had this in common: they liked to read books, journals, and articles.

On one of my travels, I met someone who asked me a simple question:

“Where do you live?”

“I have a house in London and one in Johannesburg, but I spend most of my time in airports.”

“Where are your books?” she asked.

“In Johannesburg.”

“Ah, that is where you live, because books are your most prized possession.”

You must BUY and own books. It must be a constant investment. You’re not a reader if you prefer only to borrow books. It means you’re not committed. If you have children, take them to bookshops. Buy or build them bookshelves. Encourage them to own and treasure books. Take them to libraries, galleries and museums… they’re generally free!

__For the African continent to grow and prosper, we must build a greater culture of reading in our young generations! There’s not a moment to waste.

The pastor of a great church asked a young man, “Where is your bible?”

“I can’t afford one, sir” the young man replied.

“Then sell your shoes!” the pastor replied.

This is the attitude you must build towards the ownership of all other books, too: “If you think books are too expensive then you have not yet realized their value to you, and your family.”

Reading is by far and away the thing I do most in my day:

# You all know by now that I start my day by reading the bible for at least an hour. I read it cover to cover at least once a year.
# Before I go to work or start my day, I delve through at least 5 newspapers that I subscribe to.
# Then I read reports, mostly about what’s going on in our various businesses. I also read the latest developments in our industries.
# I read emails (I don’t allow an email to go unanswered for more than 24 hours). Generally, I read every email that gets into my inbox. This is why I don’t like all sorts of emails to clutter my box. I manage emails very strictly because if I don’t, I’ll lose control of my agenda.
# Throughout the day, I’m reading reports and responding to them. I can read very fast.

I hate rituals, but if you must have a ritual, this is it: Read every day to understand, reflect upon and follow what’s going on around you that affects you. Remember what I’ve said before: things happening far across the world can seriously affect you, too!

You can train yourself to expand your reading capacity quickly and easily:
1. Buy and read books.
2. Buy and read books.
Did I repeat myself?
Buy and read books!

In closing, the other day I went to see a play in New York about Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers. It was a remarkable musical production and worth all the rave reviews it’s getting. I only had one problem: it was a musical performed in “rap” by a mostly young African-American cast; for a long time, I didn’t understand a thing they were saying! But I could still follow the story very well, because I’d read the book on which it was based more than 10 years earlier. If I must see a movie, I need to read the book as well.

Someone who has a smartphone or tablet is reading (quantitatively) more than 100x what their peers read 20 years ago. Nevertheless, the key to reading capacity requires an interest in reading books, even those in electronic format.

Be smart, be wise; buy and read books. If you’re planning to get to the top, one book a week should be your minimum target.



Author:Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa is the founder and Executive Chairman of the Econet Group. He serves on several international boards including Unilever, and the Global Advisory boards of the Council on Foreign Relations and Stanford University. A board member of the Rockefeller Foundation for 15 years, he also serves as Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). He is a co-founder of the Carbon War Room, Pathways for Prosperity, and the Global Business Coalition on Education. He and his wife, Tsitsi, co-founded the Higherlife Foundation and are signators of the Giving Pledge.

27 Replies to “Pause: What is the most important skill you need?”

  1. Afterthought 1.
    When I decided to return and work in Africa in the early 1980s, I sold all my few possessions — things like my stereo systems, my color tv (big thing in those days!), my prized music albums… everything I could sell. I then used all the cash to buy books, because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find some of my most important books. When one of my friends asked me why I was doing this, I said books were my most important possession, because with the knowledge they give me, I can make enough money to buy anything else!

  2. Afterthought 2.
    It matters what you read, if you want to be taken seriously. Don’t become addicted to following the lives of so-called celebrities. If you only want to read the 148 characters of Twitter, you’re playing with fire. Get down to reading serious stuff… If you don’t like it, you’ll never be able to lead effectively!

  3. Afterthought 3.
    Read to sharpen your curiosity. A person who is not intellectually curious about issues will develop a closed mind and will eventually end up being manipulated by others.

  4. Afterthought 4.
    When we first started this platform, there were people who complained that my blogs were “too long.” They have grown, and together we’re engaging in one of the most serious platforms on Facebook. We have grown together.

  5. Mpho writes,

    Sir i never loved reading unless it was for marks .I only started reading more after you told me not to just only read what you wrote but also read books about how other business man and woman are runing their business. I have not stoped reading since then and i can already see growth. Thank you sir..

    My reply,
    “I never loved reading unless it was for marks”.
    As usual Mpho your contributions on this platform are right on point:
    Many people make this mistake of thinking that reading and studying is something you do for “marks” when you are at school or on a course. It should be a lifestyle, and you can train yourself to develop this lifestyle.
    Here are a few simple steps others can take to be like you:
    1. Use the Internet to go on Amazon and research books on areas that really interest you. It will only take you half an hour at most. Draw up lists of these books, and make it your objective to acquire one or two every month. Amazon is really easy to use, and the books can be delivered in a matter of days or weeks depending on where you are.
    2. You can also join platforms of book reviews, most major international newspapers and magazines have such reviews.
    With your smartphone you are a click away from finding out a lot of information about subjects of interest. Even if you cannot afford to buy, you can still access a lot of things Online for free.
    3. Subscribe for one or two magazines.
    4. Read for leisure as well, because even if you are reading a book on Alex Ferguson (former Manchester United Manager), it will help develop your reading capacity and speed.
    Reading is like anything else: the more you do, the easier it gets, and the better you become.
    5. Cut back on tv, and focus on reading. If you have a young family, have one or two days a week when you all switch off the tv, and do some reading.
    6. Take a walk downtown at lunch time in your city and look out for all the bookshops. If you are at an airport browse through the bookshops. Make it one of your “good habits”.

    1. Sir, would you like to share with us your top 10 favorite books ? Maybe by categories if possible. I am a huge bookworm, I feel like all i was doing when i was a child was reading, I know that I am who I am because of somes characters I have grown up with. I have recently switched my focus from fiction to autobiographies, business, startup and management’s books.. I would love to discover which book had the most impact on someone like you

  6. When my wife and I were first married, she rarely read anything outside of a few fashion and sport magazines. She was amazed that I liked reading even as a form of leisure. I encouraged her, and before long she was also reading. Today she reads much more than me! I cannot keep up with her.
    She is always being invited onto boards of international organizations, because she is very diligent with reading board books and corporate documents.

  7. Neba Grace writes,

    Am really joyful about this post.I was discussing with my Czech friend the other day about reading because am someone who likes to read a lot and am writing my own book now and also invest a lot of money buying books. My friend told be she was just checking the people who read a lot or who are reading books or investing in reading Czech Republic was number 7 and India number in the Worlds ranking on people who read and she didn’t see Africa.I went speechless really. Please my dear African brothers and sisters there a lot of free e-books out there to gain loads of information to grow and expand our knowledge let go get it and it true the bible says “my people die because of lack of knowledge” Knowledge is power believe me.

    My reply,
    Now you understand why I wrote this VERY IMPORTANT post.
    Let those who have ears hear what the Spirit is saying to us!

  8. Mpho writes,

    A reading nation is a wining nation,The only way we can move foward a nation is by creating citizens that read books.For small business owners we need to read more to grow more of our business.I find my self going through the internet when ever i am curious about something. If i hear or see a name of a company that i have never heard of, i go google it online. If i hear of a financial term i have not heard of, i go check it online and read more on it so that i understand how i can use it in my small business.I read almost anything that gives me growth.

    My reply,
    Ten out of ten today!

  9. Reading is a key to success,i live in an area where people are not exposed to reading(libraries) but i always encourage those who are intrested to read more.Thank u Dr Musiyiwa for your inspirations

  10. Greetings Mr Masiyiwa, my name is Mike N Mukuwapasi and was born and grew up in Rusape. After finishing A level I moved to Harare and studied a diploma in communications and Journalism and after complision I worked at Zbc for sometime with Amai Chisamba and also produced the programmes Afro Beat and Rockers Vibes. I then moved here to South Africa to look for greener pastures but I haven’t found a job as a journalist yet but am just working some part time jobs. I however applied at five universities in the UK but so far only two have offered me a place to study with them. I really thought that I would find a scholarship or Besary but nothing has come up yet. I believe this is a good chance to further my education and get a degree but am becoming very desperate coz I haven’t found any scholarship and I can’t afford to pay the fees by myself and also I don’t have anyone to help me since all my parents are deceased. I am asking you for your help to help me achieve my dream to get an education which can help to alliviate poverty from our family. I really hope God could touch your heart and consider to help me even if I have to pay back as a loan. I really hope u will consider my request and offer to help me. You can communicate with me on my above email address and my phone number is 0730945570. I can be available anytime if u would like to interview or meet me. Thank you and God bless u and your family. And thanx for all that you are doing for Zimbabwe, Africa and the whole world.

  11. Books are treasures of immeasurable value.
    For young business people on shoestring budget, I would recommend that you visit amazon and search for used books section. You can get very good quality books for a fraction of the price. I used that a lot when we started our company. There were books worth £100 that I bought for £1 or less minus postages ofcourse.

    I don’t joke with my books. I sleep with them, travel with them, eat alongside them and if possible will breathe them.

  12. was just listening to an audio tape “investing for dummies” and the same thing was being said….Great stuff there Sir

  13. I really thank you sir for this post, I feel to be so inspired and need to start reading. I have been planing to start reading for so long time without taking action. And maybe its only because of being not consistent enough to focus on one book before I go to the other, or may be I can say I dont yet know what issues real interests me the most and so I keep on moving from one to another.

    With this post I have read today, its actually the second time I read this thing, I pray that God help me to now go into taking action and to move and transfer this behavior to my future children also. I want to grow with this.

    May God bless you sir, and may He strengthen you to keep on transform us African young generation, Amen!

  14. I thank you Sir for your motivational and inspirational words.As from today i will pray to the Lord to give me spirit of diligence especially in reading .Reading thats hobby of those who are business minded.

  15. If you are a tech guy like me who hates reading hard copy books I advice you to subscribe on it just $8.99/month over 1million books
    Thank you sir for this post honestly I am personally challenged a book in a week hmm I hope I can bit that because I’m a slow reader.

  16. failure in this life is a choice not an option…God has blessed us with people that have set their hearts in shaping our future as youths, I am blessed to have met this blog and all other informative sites….. thank you Sir for allowing Jesus to use you….

  17. Thank you very much sir for your words of inspiration .You are raising great leaders for our beloved Africa.I believe that if this culture of reading takes root in us we will go far.

  18. I feel that this is a nice forum for us young generations to develop a routine of reading.I’m one of the people who used to think that i’m suppose to read for marks but honestly I have been transfomed and will start reading widely soon after my complition of A’level this year…Thank you very much Dr Masiiwa for the advice and the guys who are ftee to share their testimonies

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