Comprehensive Reading


Ever wonder what it really takes to join the ranks of senior management?  Hard work, a strong level of technical or specialized knowledge, and the broad perspective to manage others all come to mind.  It’s not surprising that successful candidates often spend years completing professional designations and gaining particular on the job experience to help prepare them for roles at the senior or executive levels.

What might be surprising, however, are the fundamental skills that successful, top level people typically exhibit and consistently practice.  These skills are not characterized by complicated research, formulas, or complex business practices and are, in fact, much more simplistic than that.  These characteristics are more about the approach that the individual takes to fulfil their role on a personal level and are essential to generating a positive result.  Things like comprehensive reading, active listening, concise communication, and consistent reliability are all important skills that are typically exhibited by strong senior level managers.

Executives know that failing to do any of these things could result in poor decisions, at a minimum, as well as the real potential for crisis situations and more in the worst case.  Despite this reality, too many people in the business world fail to utilize these vital skills, especially those in the mid-ranks with expectations to progress further.  What these people don’t realize is how much a lack of attention to detail limits their progress in terms of advancement, and might even result in being labeled as not having the potential for more senior roles.  Don’t let this happen to you!

Instead, take the initiative to understand how executives approach their role and start to adopt these behaviors.  Practicing these skills consistently will not only differentiate you from others in your peer group and generate better results today, they will also help to prepare you for climbing the ladder tomorrow.  In this series, we will consider several skills that will help to provide you with an advantage in the career marketplace.  Let’s get started with the first skill: comprehensive reading.

Where it Goes Wrong

Have you ever sent someone an email with what you thought were fairly straightforward instructions, only to receive a response that seemed completely out of left field?  “Did she even read my email?” you wonder.  “I went out of my way to make this so simple for him; how frustrating!” you complain.  Why does this happen?

Assuming that you did communicate your instructions in a clear and concise manner (we will get to that in a future article!), the bottom line is that too many people just don’t read!  Although they might have read carefully at the beginning, a common shortfall is to skim the rest, not paying attention to critical information or what was being asked in terms of response or “to do” items on their part.  Experienced executives know that this approach can actually be fatal.

Put yourself on the executive path by doing something really simple; just read (yes, all of it!).  The challenge of comprehensive reading often comes with doing it consistently and completely, but practicing this skill and using it without exception are critical for managing the risk levels of executive roles.

  • Don’t skim. Skilled executives read thoroughly, from the beginning of a document or email right to the end.  The challenge is to maintain focus in order to concentrate on what is being said, without any incorrect interpretations.
  • Don’t let your mind wander. If you feel this happening, stop reading, go back to the top of the last paragraph, and begin again.  If you pay conscious attention to not letting your mind wander, you will be surprised how quickly your attention level starts to decline.  This will happen less frequently if you practice.
  • Learn to absorb information quickly. Practice allows you to effectively open your mind and absorb new information quickly, but also thoroughly and completely. Skilled executives might look like they are skimming, due to the pace of their reading; but instead, they have practiced well to absorb information quickly.
  • Think about next steps. Executives are always thinking about the next steps or “so what?” aspect in relation to what they read. This approach makes written material more action oriented and keeps the “what is being asked of me?” question top of mind.
  • Appreciate the value of executive summary type documents. Given that executives do, in fact, read thoroughly, this increases of importance of concise documents, such as the executive summary.  Communications that focus on the core issues of a situation, decision points, and next steps are critical, as opposed to long winded documents that include unnecessary information or never get to the point.  Keeping this in mind when communicating with others actually helps to practice comprehensive reading skills.

Think it sounds easy?  Too easy to bother?  Now, that’s a mistake.  The reality is this: executive level issues and decisions are often based on complex information and situations.  In order to grasp the material, it takes practice to absorb it.  This is just another reason to start practicing now, while the stakes are certainly important, but are not quite so high.