(Leadership) Book Club Cult

Book clubs are perceived as a stereotypical afternoon activity in suburbia, where a group of neighbors gather around to drink wine and gossip about the new family that just moved into the house at the end of the street. Or, even worse, an unwanted class activity from people’s high-school years where they couldn’t choose the book of their liking or the group of people to discuss it with. Besides that, whenever I talk to people about the latest book they’ve read, I hear them mumble quietly, “Yeah, I wish I had more time to read books”.

In the last few months, we experimented with a new company tradition called Leadership Book Club. Before the first session, I had my own prejudices, (e.g.,It’s going to be boring; only strange people will come to such an event; we are going to have an empty room; I don’t want others to choose books for me, etc.). To my delight, reality proved me wrong. The book club session turned out completely differently to the suburban or high school stereotypes. It ended up being a great social activity, and I enjoyed sharing ideas and impressions with friends.

Reading & Leading as a culture

The rest of this post describes how commitment, peer pressure, wine, and some additional tricks can help you to read more in the upcoming year and might help you fulfill your new year’s resolution.

So, What’s so special in a ‘book club’?

The biggest difference between a book club and lectures or meetups is the commitment it requires from participants. Each participant is expected to read the book in advance and share her thoughts, feelings, and personal experience with the other participants of the book club. This kind of openness requires the participants of the book club to trust of each other and to provide constructive criticism.

The “communal” sense of book clubs — as opposed to other meetups — is expressed through the many voices heard during the session, where different schools collide or crash. This sense of community becomes even more prominent when selecting a complex topic such as leadership, a topic full of dilemmas and gray areas.

In return, this type of openness and sharing turns out to be a great way to learn from different people and helps to shape you own character.

Willing to try it yourself? Here are some tips and tricks from our experience:

  • One crucial tip is to choose a theme for the book club. As the organizer, you need to build a core group of avid readers. The main two factors for such group of acid readers are common interest (in our case, the theme) and cadence.
  • Choose the book together with the group. It is all about commitment — let the people take an active part in deciding what they want to read.
  • Three-hundred pages seems to be a reasonable amount for people to read in a time frame of a month.
  • Provide shortcuts - Choose books that have audio version of even a YouTube video of the author discussing it. Keep in mind that the real value of the book club lies within the discussion and idea exchange. In addition, we found out that this helps draw in more people, even if they didn’t read the book at all.
  • Alcohol is useful to set the right mood for a fruitful discussion.
  • Don’t ask about the book or specific paragraphs, this isn’t a test. Ask about the implications. People are associative animals; they don’t necessarily remember every sentence, but they would love to get involved in a discussion if one starts.
  • Go with the flow — don’t force the discussion to revolve one topic; don’t force the discussion to have a specific order; let the first person start and go from there.
  • Prepare questions for quiet/awkward moments. Use these questions to trigger people to talk about specific situations (e.g., ”In the book they are talking about ‘fear of conflict’, I would like to share my own experience”).

What did we read till now?

  • The Mythical Man-Month (by Fred Brooks)
  • Emotional Design: Why We Love (or hate) Everyday Things (by Don Norman)
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (by Patrick Lencioni)
  • Turn the Ship Around (by L. David Marquet)

Let me know if you want to join us for the upcoming meetings