Over the past several years, I have had the privilege of grabbing coffee with Eboo Patel. A social entrepreneur based out of Chicago, Eboo is the founder and executive director of one of the fastest growing and most influential non-profits in the world, the Interfaith Youth Core. From time to time, Eboo and I get together to catch up and talk about what is going on in our lives.
As we’ve met over the years I’ve noticed a pattern in our discussions. Every time we meet he asks me, “What are your reading?” And usually there is a series of follow-up questions: “What are you learning? How are you applying those lessons?” and so on. During these conversations he always listens intently, offers his own insights, recommends other resources, and encourages self-reflection and growth.
Eboo is a visionary and an entrepreneur, but more than this, he is an excellent mentor for young leaders. As I’ve observed his interactions with other young leaders, I’ve noticed that he always asks the questions “What are you reading?” and “What are you learning?” In doing so, I see him modeling three principles I think anyone who mentors leaders should emulate.
First, Eboo encourages people to think deeply. He has a passion for helping people grow as independent and sophisticated thinkers. In a world of tabloid media, Twitter, and blogging, people are bombarded by a lot of junk. Eboo knows that intake is just as important as output—that our minds are shaped by what we read, listen to, and watch. So he takes time to encourage the thoughtful development of those he mentors by encouraging them to read deeply and critically.
Second, Eboo knows that breadth is as important as depth. He is always encouraging people to read from writers who represent a variety of perspectives on various subjects. He believes that in order to be well-rounded and thoughtful, we need to be willing to learn from those who challenge our assumptions. This helps us to appreciate different perspectives and not take our own positions for granted.
Finally, Eboo knows that integration is key. Beyond simply reading widely and deeply, he encourages life application. He challenges people to think about how to apply the lessons they’re learning to their own lives and leadership. Leaders are those who learn to apply the knowledge they’ve gained in a way that shapes not only their own behaviors and practices, but in ways that serve and benefit the communities they lead. Eboo understands this and mentors others with this vital lesson in mind.
So, the next time you are mentoring someone, it might just be worth asking the question, “What are you reading?”
And, is what you’re reading changing you?
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on leadership from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.