Book clubs stand to unite a workforce in a shared activity that is completely optional for the participant. A few months ago, we started a book club for female leaders in the IT organization. Initially, there was skepticism about why we would only include women and not offer the same opportunity to men. The reason for this approach is simple: there are far fewer females in leadership roles. It is important for them to come together through a shared experience to discuss issues they face at work and at home. The rapport built from this group empowered these women to have increased confidence in their roles. I encouraged the men to do the same: start a book club to strengthen the leadership skills of those interested in participating.
The first book read and discussed in the women’s group (over a ‘brown bag’ lunch), was The Confidence Effect by Grace Killelea. It was specifically chosen because many women had expressed to me a need to build their confidence. Over the course of three months and three meetings (with a final meeting to wrap the experience and choose the next book), the following actions unfolded.
- Thoughtful Intentions. I intentionally had a Senior Director lead the team discussions and be the point-person for the group. This allowed her the opportunity to lead outside of her immediate team and be viewed by others as an expert beyond just her primary area of responsibility. She has truly enjoyed the experience and has grown both personally and professionally. Through her role in this informal group, she has harnessed and demonstrated the next level of leadership for herself and others.
- Paying It Forward. The teammates not in direct leadership roles wanted to have a club. A female manager who gained confidence from reading our first book and was supported by her colleagues offered to lead the group. They agreed to also start with The Confidence Effect, promoting a common theme, strengthening the concept, and giving the manager a familiar foundation and blueprint for success.
- Creating Connections. Greater collaboration, support, and genuine camaraderie is occurring outside of meetings and required togetherness generated from projects and deliverables. While I am relatively new to the organization, several teammates have tenure of well over a decade or more. Teammates learn and share information about one another that would never have otherwise been shared. Through these discussions, they discover commonality of experiences: their needs and fears are not incredibly different in many instances.
- Continued Momentum. We have since read our second book, Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg, furthering the theme of stories of personal struggles, choices, and accomplishments. If The Confidence Effect brought people out of their shells, Lean In empowered them to think differently and not be afraid to share their ideas and needs. Now, as the group embarks on reading our third selection, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, the goal is to continue building skills that will ensure delivery of these ideas in the most appropriate manner to achieve the greatest opportunity for success.
- Ripple Effect.The men have created their own group. For their first book, they chose The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. This book was picked because the leader of the men’s group was also in charge of our software development teams. Solving for the hardest and most complex business solutions is indeed the greatest hurdle for these departments. This challenge is not unique to the men, yet resonated with them as the right place to begin.
The positivity generated from the participants who are doing something that is directly related to their personal and professional improvement is inspiring. We are surrounded by programs and content designed to help us be better parents, leaders, friends, and colleagues, yet astoundingly, we don’t often take time to curl up with a book and use that time to reflect on who we are and want to be. We are bombarded by checklists, pop-up reminders, and sound bites. One of our managers said she read excerpts from Lean In to her teenage sons to help them better understand how she thinks and what she believes they will need to embrace to be a good husband and father if they choose that path. She admitted she had not made time for herself to read for her own enjoyment in far too long.
Each member of the group also chose to read a physical copy of the book. When I asked about this choice they all mentioned the act of unplugging and turning pages made them feel like they could tangibly see the progress they were making. They also enjoyed the old-school method of writing in the margins and high-lighting passages with a marker. Granted, we connected in person as well as via WebEx due to geography and travel schedules, yet each person proudly carried and displayed their books on their desk. One participant noted how many people asked her about what she was reading and it initiated conversations that would have otherwise been transactional based on a scheduled meeting.
Recognizing a need for connection and shared experiences to learn and grow, we didn’t search for an app, online program, or facilitator. We looked inward and for a solution that was cost-effective, voluntary, and could fit into our already swamped schedules. The simple act of bringing digital technology teammates together in a new setting with an analog format has had an impact I didn’t initially expect. It has continued to organically grow beyond its initial scope, sparking meaningful personal conversations, and injecting a much-needed dose of empowerment to the teams.
I encourage you to start or join a club or group within your professional environment. If that’s not an option, choose to read one for your own personal enrichment, then share your thoughts and ideas among colleagues from other industries or companies.
In need of a recommendation for a title? Check out reviews of some of my favorites.
I’d love to hear about your experiences leading or participating in an older idea made new again! Share your thoughts with me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), on Twitter, or at www.conciergeleadership.com.