It was late 1996 and my boss presented me with a gift. It was a book. And it wasn't my birthday.
"Read this," he said.
"I think it will help you to understand what we are trying to do here. Don't worry if it takes you a while to get through it. Let's touch base regularly to talk about how you're making sense of it."
He had previously given me a couple of relatively easy books to read and I had consumed them like a hungry tiger. So he 'knew' I was up to the task.
The book was The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. It was a tough read and took me six months to get through it. True to his word, however, it was okay for me to take my time to get through it.
For me, taking time to 'make sense' of the book worked really well. Having the opportunity to talk through what I was reading and relate it to what was happening in the organisation was extremely powerful. It allowed me to truly understand from a practical perspective what the book was saying.
At the time my boss was very busy. As was I. But these conversations were invaluable. Both to my development and my capacity to contribute to what we were trying to achieve at the organisation.
Too often I hear leaders say that they have given books to their direct reports but they don't follow up on whether they have read anything. From my experience, it is the conversations that make this form of education invaluable.
If you have never used this developmental tactic, then start with short, simple books. As staff indicate their appreciation of this type of education introduce more complex books. But the most important aspect of this process is that you create conversations about the book and how the staff member is making sense of it. As much as possible your conversations should focus on your current and future work situation to provide a practical element for your conversations.
How have you used books to help educate your people, or what are your experiences of wise bosses using this tactic with you?
Gary Ryan works with successful senior and developing leaders who understand the true value of being challenged, tested and educated through focusing on real world issues, challenges and problems.