Staying on Top of Trends: Iowa Leaders Read, Listen to Sharpen Skills

April 13, 2018 | Staying on top of trends: Iowa leaders read, listen to sharpen skills

Reading takes an important role in Michael Sadler’s life.

Sadler, CenturyLink’s assistant vice president for public policy and government relations, described reading as “sharpening the saw” of his skills, which, funny enough, is a line he got from reading a book titled “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey.

Reading in general can have a profound effect on leadership, but less than half of the U.S. population is reading literature, according to a 2012 study by the National Endowment for the Arts. Reading and listening can provide a variety of benefits for leadership in every industry, making that trend all the more concerning.

This trend “is terrible for leadership, where my experience suggests those trends are even more pronounced,” wrote John Coleman for the Harvard Business Review. “Business people seem to be reading less — particularly material unrelated to business. But deep, broad reading habits are often a defining characteristic of our greatest leaders and can catalyze insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness.”

But some leaders in Iowa put a large stock in reading and listening. They use books and podcasts to sharpen their skills and learn the newest and best ways to lead. Sadler, who was named the Business Record’s Forty Under 40 Alumnus of the Year in 2014, has taken that to heart.

“It’s kind of continually learning and keeping your skills at a top level,” Sadler said. “I think that’s important for every business leader to stay on top of their skills and keep that saw sharp and be effective in their roles.”


Sadler doesn’t limit his reading choices by industry. While he does work in telecom, he reads books about many different types of businesses, entrepreneurial mindsets and skills.

The most recent book Sadler read was “The Captain Class” by Sam Walker. The book analyzes the greatest sports teams in history — their players, coaches and front o ce sta — and puts them into a business context. Being a sports guy, Sadler, who played basketball at Simpson College, enjoyed learning about these strategies through a sports lens.

Sadler tries to read one book per quarter. Even though that’s not as much reading as he’d like to do, it still allows him to learn and grow in his position.

“Because my work brings me into a lot of different directions, to read some of these books and some of the styles of leadership has helped me communicate effectively both internally in my position and externally,” Sadler said.

Not only does Sadler read, but he also listens to podcasts. He was made aware of podcasts a few months ago through some younger co-workers. Now it allows him to learn while on the go. He listens to a couple of podcasts the most: “Live Inspired” and “The Introvert Entrepreneur.”

“I really relate to that because I am an introvert for the most part,” Sadler said with a laugh. “Some people won’t buy that, but I am. It talks about different strategies for an introvert to still be an effective communicator as a business-person in today’s world.”

Armed with refined and sharpened skills, Sadler loves to discuss new books and podcasts with other members of the ABI board of directors, on which he’s part of the executive committee, especially since there’s a large swath of industries to talk with.

“I think it’s important to keep up to date with the latest business strategies,” Sadler said. “I think it’s important to see what people are doing in other industries that could relate to your industry.”


Rowena Crosbie jokes that maybe persistence is the biggest key to being a leader. And she might know that more than anybody.

After all, Crosbie, the owner and founder of Tero International, and her co-author, Deborah Rinner, took eight years to complete their book, “The Invisible Toolbox: The Technological Ups and Interpersonal Downs of the Millennial Generation,” which was released early last year.

“It took a horrifying long time,” Crosbie said. “To write a book that people actually want to read and can find inspiring and insightful, that’s tough for an author to do. This thing took on so many iterations over the years. Persistence is an underlying message.”

The book’s main message has hit home for a lot of Iowa leaders. “The Invisible Toolbox” focuses on the large cohort of millennials entering the workplace and the challenges they’ll face related to interpersonal skills, which Crosbie says account for 85 percent of people’s success at work.

“Especially at a time with all the technological changes that have changed how all of us work,” Crosbie said. “The ability to relate to others is one of the things that in many places was resistant to change. It’s as important now as it was when I started the company 25 years ago.”

Crosbie has been pleasantly surprised by how well the book has been received by the Iowa community. Initially, Crosbie and Rinner, chief learning officer for Tero International, wrote the book to be read by Tero graduates as a follow-up to the various courses the company offers.

It has turned into much more than that. Leaders in the community are distributing the book to their team members to help facilitate dialogue, Crosbie said. She also said her book will be picked up by a Des Moines Area Community College management class for learning material.

“We never dreamed that a book that was written for the everyday consumer to read on an airplane or curl up with on their nightstand would be perceived in academic circles to have that power to find its way into a formal classroom,” she said.

Crosbie is proud of the scope of the book so far because she knows the importance of reading to a leader.

“The half-life of knowledge right now is estimated to be four years,” she said. “That means that half of what we learn in any given year will be replaced with new knowledge four years from now. For all of us, it’s imperative for us to stay current and constantly be consuming new ideas and new concepts.

“Reading good books is such a good way to do that. We can listen to audio in our vehicles, we can listen to podcasts when we’re exercising or we can curl up in the airplane or in the bed at night and read a book. It’s one of the smartest things a leader can do for their own professional development.”


While also building skills, reading can also be a great way to build teams within a business. Kate Washut and Far Reach Inc., a custom software development and consulting company in Cedar Falls, have tried to facilitate that through the company’s business book club.

Far Reach partner Chad Feldmann started the book club in 2015, thinking it would help the company learn and grow. Since the book club’s inception, the company has read more than 10 books. After each read, the team posts a blog on Far Reach’s website, giving a synopsis of the book and how it can be incorporated into their work lives.

“We read anything we think we can learn something from or that will help us work or how we run the business or how we work as a team,” Washut said. “There are a lot of different things we can learn from a lot of different people. It’s kind of a fun way we can learn just because we do it together.”

The team meets every other week to discuss the book, even if it’s just a few chapters at a time. Many of the books revolve around happiness, including some recent reads like “Joy, Inc.” by Richard Sheridan and “Today Matters” by John Maxwell. It’s all a part of the company’s core values and desire to learn.

“I’d say everyone on the team has a passion for continuous learning,” Washut said. “For me, as a leader, it’s really important to live that core value so that the team sees it and knows that I’m bought into it and I make a conscious effort to do.”

Reading helps Far Reach and Washut personally stay on top of trends in the industry and beyond.

“The world moves really quickly these days, so we can’t stand still,” Washut said. “We have to keep learning and innovating. For us, reading books is one of the ways that we’re always thinking how to do things better as a team, and it goes beyond just a team to our clients and community too.

“We don’t have the luxury of standing still. We’ve got to keep moving forward, and learning and growing is imperative to that.”