The most successful organizations believe they are on a mission. Part of something larger than themselves. Successful leaders are always looking for ways to create that belief.
General Martin E. Dempsey said “The most important responsibility of leaders is to make their people feel like they belong”, and “Give them memories or someone else will”.
Here’s a surprising way to build cohesion in your team, and help them believe this is more than just a job: run a workplace book group. Not, “ask HR to run one for you”, but you, as the leader. You: you pick the book, you organize (but don’t dominate) the meeting. It’s not hard. Make it known that the boss is running a reading group, and people will show up. Especially the ambitious and the learners — you want to know who these people are in your organization. Select a few key leaders and make sure they participate. The rest will follow. Buy everyone the book. If you’re feeling ambitious write a short handwritten note in it.
The act of reading together, discussing together, will build relationships and shared values, and as a side benefit, your team’s perception of you personally will be altered for the better. Your team will gain a shared perspective on thorny problems. For example, the current administration is reading Thucydides for perspective on the “Thucydides trap” and the growing potential conflict between America and China.
Leaders always face the challenge of building relationships with team members that is deeper than the demands of the moment, but rather based on shared values and ideas. They also face the challenge of helping their team gain perspective on the problems they face. Books are a time-tested way of doing that. My mantra as an executive is to build teams that Learn, Grow, Adapt and Deliver, and books are a bedrock tactic. A workplace reading group takes people out of the day-to-day and helps them believe they are part of something bigger.
Picking the book is the fun part. Pick one that’s timely for your organization. Trying to develop your next generation of leaders? Tides of War by Steven Pressfield and Shogun by James Clavell are both gripping historical fiction AND a master class in leadership tactics. Trying to build a data-driven organization? Moneyball by Michael Lewis is a wildly entertaining story of how Billy Bean turned the lowest spending baseball team into a contender, by using the power of data.
Work book clubs have their own challenges when compared to normal book clubs. People aren’t always in the same location, can’t always make the meetings. Give them a way to participate, and find a place where observations can be shared and recorded outside the meetings. That might be on your corporate intranet or a private Facebook group. Or consider Bookship, our social reading app that is purpose-built for sharing your reading experiences in a private, mobile-first, easy-to-use chat style interface (https://www.bookshipapp.com).