In his landmark book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the late author Stephen Covey identifies habit number seven as sharpening the saw. By that, he means working on self-improvement. More specifically, he means “having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.”


One of the most powerful tools I know for self-improvement is the 5 Hour Rule. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Oprah Winfrey all follow it. The 5 Hour Rule is defined as setting aside five hours per week for deliberate practice or learning. One of the most important tools for learning is reading.

Self-Improvement by Reading

Principle number one of the 5 Principles of IT Customer Service Success is the principle of competence. That’s striving to be a master of your craft. As IT people, we tend to read a lot. We read configuration guides and other technical documentation, but that improves only our technical skills. The most successful people tend to be well-rounded and deeply thoughtful, characteristics which are enhanced by reading material from outside their specific field. My late boss Michael Costello encouraged each of his managers to read books and articles from outside our industry. He believed that doing so not only gave us insights into best practices in other industries, it also forced us to rethink our own practices. He believed that reading gave us a strong competitive edge.

The best CIOs I work with read extensively outside our industry. The rising IT stars I meet read voraciously. The most successful political leaders are avid readers. (The really successful politicians on both sides of the fence read thoughtful pieces espousing points-of-view from across the political spectrum, including ideas in opposition to their own.)

So, what are some sources for good books to read? Try asking a successful person you know for a recommendation. Take a look at my recommended reading list on my Compassionate Geek blog, Bill Gates reading list, the New York Times best seller list for non-fiction, Oprah’s book club lists, or just search online for reading lists.

Reading a great book gives you new perspectives, it opens your mind, challenges your beliefs, and helps you overcome challenges. The most successful people are curious about everything and they have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I’m getting ready to read a book recommended by Bill Gates and written by David Christian called Origin of Everything: A Big History of Everything. What’s on your reading list?

For More Ideas on How to Improve Communication and Customer Service Skills

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