If you work at the City and County of Denver (CCD), or any city across the globe that relies on sales tax or lodging tax to make up part of your city budget, you’re probably looking at a 0 next to the words ‘professional development’ for 2021. At Peak Academy, we are firm believers that professional development does not have to cost a lot of money. It takes creative, caring and committed leaders willing to try something new.

In our new Public Service Superhero training, you’ll hear us talk a lot about crosstraining, and that is definitely one strategy that increases not only professional development but also efficiency in your organization. And if you work for CCD, all of Peak Academy’s training offerings are offered free, so now the options for professional development on a budget are starting to pile up. But the option I want to dive into today is the idea of a book club, specifically a Dare to Lead Book Club with some leaders you admire.

If you’ve already taken one of our trainings, you know that we’re major fans of learning and books. So much so, in fact, that the Peak Academy team is required to read an extensive list of books that we teach in class and have available for CCD staff in our Peak Library. This summer, I was starting to read Dare to Lead by Brene Brown, and on one of the first pages, she mentioned a free workbook available on her website. Which, of course she did, Brene is amazing and thinks of everything, especially as it relates to the best ways that adults learn. I have always been a workbook fan – from the days of elementary school when you’d get a fresh workbook with crisp, perforated pages, ready to be torn out and placed on a stack for grading – so I immediately went to the website ready to dive into an adult-version-workbook.

On the first page of the workbook, I read “this workbook was developed for use by teams (3 or more) and individuals working in pairs. You can certainly do this work on your own, but it’s more powerful with another person.” Well, obviously, I wanted the full power experience, so I asked Dionne Williams, Executive Director of the Office of Children’s Affairs (OCA) and Amber Anderson, Deputy Director of OCA if they would, by any chance, be interested in starting a book club/workbook club with me. It was a long shot, these are VERY busy women being tasked with some of the most crucial work brought on by the pandemic, but as good leaders do, they both agreed that it could be valuable to try something new.

The experience was transformative for me as I got to learn from two women who have had rich and diverse careers up to this point and were being faced with immense leadership challenges as we went through the book. It’s been more valuable than any conference or class I could have paid for, and I will be forever grateful to them for seeing this through with me. Read on to see what they thought of our experiment and some tips for a great book club experience.

“I am a student of leadership. But I don’t set aside enough time to actually read, digest and talk about it with people who matter most. Having the time set aside to dive into important leadership and equity questions with my boss and with our Peak partner has been a game changer. We three are deeply embedded in operational, staffing, and programmatic elements of our team, and like everyone leading a team right now, we’ve had to answer really challenging leadership questions along the way. Having a structured conversation has really helped us to stay on task, and to dive into questions that we need to ask of ourselves and one another during these unprecedented times.”

“With everything going on in the city this year I wasn’t sure if I had the time or bandwidth to devote to a book club, but this turned out to be so timely. As leaders we have all been stretched to capacity while we respond to multiple crises in our city, and this was the perfect opportunity to discuss and flex our leadership muscles in real time. I was skeptical about this particular book at the beginning because I think I’ve had leadership training fatigue and I’m always aware of the particular cultural perspective of any training or leadership philosophy. The book club was a space to be honest about that skepticism and lean into sometimes difficult conversations about the cultural norms and worldview that often show up in leadership courses. I loved doing the exercises and making the time and space to ask these tough questions, and I’m so glad we went on this journey together this summer.”

Tips for a Great Book Club Experience

  • Create a Schedule But Be Flexible – I scheduled out the full book and all of the exercises at the beginning of the summer to keep us on task, and to avoid schedules filling up. However, there were times we needed to push that schedule back due to the crises at hand and THAT WAS OK. It took us a couple of extra months to finish the book, but it never affected the quality of the conversations or the experience.
  • Follow Directions, But Be Flexible – Sometimes the exercises wanted us to use sticky notes and a ‘Turn and Learn’ method, but that was easier said than done in the virtual space. We always did the exercises even if they would lead us into uncomfortable territory, but we didn’t always follow ALL of the directions to get there.
  • Let the Conversation Go Where it Needs To – I think there were probably a couple of times where we didn’t get through all of the exercises we were scheduled to, but when we all needed the space to work through a question or a current event, that was just more important and probably made the experience even better.

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