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How Book Club at School Helped Shape My Leadership Skills

I’ll never forget reading the classic Wuthering Heights at book club. After the first reading I didn’t see the fuss, to me it just seemed like another novel with archaic language. However, when it was discussed at book club, I saw the book through a whole new light. After listening to one member’s interpretation of the novel and how she had enjoyed the wonderful metaphors threaded throughout the book, it took on a whole new meaning for me.

In fact, when I read it for the second time, it may as well have been a whole new book. That’s the beauty of book club, different perspectives. Then I think to myself – those moments at work when we’re struggling to understand one another’s perspective, why don’t we embrace these differences more? We need to appreciate different interpretations of things. The earlier we can do this, the more impactful we can be as leaders in today’s workplace.

Firstly, it’s important that we realize the value that different perspectives can bring to the table and accept that it’s not something we tend to feel comfortable with. Yes, it requires a whole learning process, but ultimately it leads to better decision making. Believe it or not, book club was this learning process for me. What’s more, it’s not only cheap and easy but available to everyone.

Here’s what bookclub taught me about being a great a leader.

1. Forming lifetime connections

One of the things about book club I particularly enjoyed and that I realize now, has benefitted me as a leader, is that it provided me with the opportunity to meet with people outside my usual social circle. Something that when you’re young and ‘cool’ isn’t often the thing to do.

Book club gave me the opportunity to realize that it was silly to behave this way, in fact, I was holding myself back from making friends for life. Having a common interest (books) was the perfect excuse to make new friends outside my usual friend group, friends that I shared a genuine interest with, not just a similar class timetable.

People with different backgrounds, ideas and opinions enrich us in ways we would have never imagined. When you realize this from a young age, you encourage yourself to always keep making friendships of this sort, pushing yourself away from your comfort zone.

2. Become a public speaking pro

Getting the opportunity to voice my opinion out loud to the rest of the members of the club also gave me the chance to practice public speaking. Believe it or not, as a leader, regularly speaking at events and conferences, I still get nervous. It’s not only about the speech you’re giving but about how you back-up the opinion you hold with what you want to get across. There’s no point in being confident in public speaking unless your key message transcends to your audience.

In our book club, I remember that unless people backed up their opinions with why they felt a certain book was boring or excellent, nobody would really change their opinion. If my friend at book club hadn’t explained why the metaphors in Wuthering Heights made it an excellent book, for example, I would never have read it for the second time.

It’s the exact same with leadership.

3. The freedom to be honest

Participating in book club also really instilled in me the importance of having the freedom, to be honest, and value the honesty of others. As a leader, I’ve noticed how important this is as a trait for successful people. Great leader’s response to honesty is always in a positive light. Even if the honesty they hear isn’t always what they were hoping for, they realize that if they’re honest, people will follow and respect them.

This is why at Perkbox one of our core values is ‘zero fear’, this means if you have a question, idea or disagree with someone, you shouldn’t be afraid to speak up and say it. It doesn’t matter if that’s to your team lead, manager or the CEO.

Different perspectives are how the best ideas are sparked and I firmly believe honesty is the best way to let these perspectives be heard!

Whilst it’s true that becoming a great leader stems hugely from factors like experience, maturity, and making many mistakes along the way, it’s clear to me also that there are great attributes around leadership that we can proactively teach from a young age. These can be achieved in a fun and interactive way through the medium of activities such as book clubs to ensure tomorrow’s generation of leaders are the most critical thinkers yet…

About the author: Before co-founding Perkbox, the UK’s fastest-growing employee engagement platform, Chieu Cao established himself as a tech marketing force to be reckoned with, leading initiatives for brands including Microsoft, Amazon and Yahoo. A consultant turned CMO, Chieu’s repertoire spans both B2C and B2B, from SEO to social strategy. 

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