Growing up, we only had three TV channels at home and no air conditioning. What else was there to do but spend my summers at the local library next to the city park? The library was safe, cool in the summer and a great place to escape. And the librarian, Frieda Sweet, always had a great book recommendation for me.
I spent my summers reading books like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki and experienced an overwhelming sense of awe for adventure. I couldn’t get enough. As a kid who lived on the Finley River in Missouri, I could imagine having the same life as Huck Finn, but it wasn’t the river that took me there, it was the books.
My love for reading started a few years prior in the second grade when my teacher at the time, Nancy Names, kept me in from recess one day. She sat me down, told me that I couldn’t read and said she wanted me to stay in for recess each day to practice reading with her. I remember being embarrassed, but also happy that an adult wanted to spend time with me. Looking back, it was a bigger sacrifice than I realized at the time. I have never been a second grade teacher, but I am sure that recess was invented by one.
For months, she coached me and taught me every day at recess until one day my mom showed up in my classroom and told me to pack up my stuff because we were moving. I was devastated, but Mrs. Names bent down and whispered, “You are a reader. Read everything you can, as much as you can, as long as you can. One day, you will go to college.”
From that moment on, I felt a passion for reading and have made it a priority in my life. I’ve also incorporated reading into my team’s strategy for success at Southwest Michigan First based on my strong belief that high performance teams are well read. Reading together as a team helps to build a common strategy and a common vocabulary. It closes the knowledge gap among team members of different ages and backgrounds. It challenges our processes and provokes thoughtful questions.
Organizations are going to get better or they are going to get worse, but nothing stays the same. Pouring knowledge into your people through reading together is one certain strategy to make sure your organization is continuously improving. To take this strategy even further, my team members take ownership of teaching the book to their peers by leading a weekly discussion to dive deeper into the material.
Mark Twain, a fellow Missourian – and that’s probably where the comparison ends – said: “Those who don’t read have no advantage over those who can’t read.” I could not agree more. In a country where more than 25% of American adults do not read a single book over the course of a year, it should be easy to stay ahead of the curve. If your team is to thrive, they must continue their education through active, life-long learning.
If you’re interested in getting a team book club together to incorporate into your workplace strategy, I invite you to check out the list of good reads on my blog for ideas of books that we have read as a team. Keep checking back as this list of good reads continues to grow.