Last week, I took some time off to unwind in Malindi with my family. During my few days in a beach hotel I learned a lot about our habits compared to our brothers and sisters from other parts of the world.

Early in the morning I could see some white tourists jogging along the beach while Africans were either in bed or strolling around holding phones while waiting for breakfast.

After breakfast it was time to have some fun swimming and sunbathing. Another stark contrast: while most Western tourists were busy relaxing with a book, most Africans were busy on their phones or drinking.

This reminded me of an old saying that if you want to hide something from an African, put it in a book.

We are such a poor reading society that nearly all publishers in Kenya rely on school books to make business sense.

Yet several studies show that benefits of reading are profound. Reading is one of the simplest and most effective self-empowerment tools. Other than providing critical information, boosting creativity and ability to spark innovation, reading is a potent stress reliever.

Thus, when going on holiday or trying to relax a book ought to be necessity. A University of Sussex study found that reading can reduce stress by up to 68 per cent.

It is more effective than other commonly used methods of relaxation such as listening to music, taking a walk or drinking a hot cup of tea.

However, it depends a lot on what you read. It only helps reduce stress if you read something you enjoy that will not emotionally upset you.

Reading a newspaper or surfing the Internet may not help relieve your stress because most of the stuff there will upset you and make you feel angry or helpless.

A good book takes you into a literary world free from the stressors that plague your daily life. A motivation or biography of successful people will inspire you as it takes you through the journey of success in the midst of challenges.

A work of fiction will make you laugh and marvel at creativity as you read it. Benefits of reading to a business leader are wide-ranging.

Nearly all successful leaders talk about how they were influenced by great writers and leaders. This is only possible through reading. Sadly, several studies show that business people seem to be reading less and less.

We live in an information world and the best business leaders are those who embrace reading habits.

Avid, broad reading habits are the hallmarks of great leaders and have amazing potential to catalyse insight, innovation, empathy, and effectiveness. Nothing boosts creative problem-solving skills like reading good books.

This article was first published in The Business Daily on November 20, 2017.

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