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Reading clubs for business executives

Establishing a business-academic partnership platform for learning and development.

A woman sitting down writing and surrounded by books at home (Photo: Karolina Grabowska on Pexels)

17 February 2021

London First is a professional association with around 200 members. It campaigns to keep London at the forefront of global business, working with, and for, the entire UK. London First has advocated for the creation of the office of London Mayor, Transport for London and congestion charging. It also incubated Teach First and created the UK's largest careers fair for school leavers.

Dr Zachary Walker of UCL Institute of Education (IOE) runs executive reading clubs for organisations. These clubs use books, articles or reports as a springboard to discussions and support managers' personal development and performance. With a PhD in Education, an MBA in International Business, and a special interest in innovative teaching and learning, inclusive leadership and neuroscience, Dr Walker is well-placed to facilitate these clubs.

"The science is very clear that reading heightens brain connectivity, reduces stress, leads to improved attention, working memory, sensory integration, creativity, and it increases our fluid reasoning and brain plasticity. In short, taking the time to read provides a competitive advantage by leading to better individual and organisational performance."

Challenge

Leaders often think they don't have time to read business books. Zachary counters this by listing Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama - the highest achievers who make time in their incredibly busy schedules to read and credit it with their success. 

Book clubs are a cultural phenomenon. Why not adopt the model to support managers' personal development and performance?

Solution

Dr Walker and London First established an executive reading club, taking place for one hour, on a monthly or quarterly basis, over a lunchtime.

Books (Photo: Dr Zachary Walker)

Books, articles or reports are selected in advance and act as a springboard to valuable discussions on key topics. Themes so far have included teamwork, change, negotiation skills, diversity and the future of work.

The reading clubs promote critical thought and enable challenging conversations. Dr Walker adds: "It creates a common language when everybody on your senior management team has read a certain book or article. People will then refer back to the concepts. It can help build your teams and increase the fluency of communication. No matter your background, you are reading and discussing together, and that's really enjoyable in addition to the performance benefits."

Impact

London First's staff book club began in person, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it moved online. Mark Hilton (London First's Executive Director, People) said: "[Dr Walker] has been brilliant, we switched from physical to virtual sessions very easily and feedback from the business has been incredibly positive."

One employee gave feedback on a session on racial fluency: "I thought it was very helpful that he [Dr Walker] gave us practical strategies for dealing with racism. I always get really uncomfortable talking about race at work, but he made it a very relaxed and open setting".

UCL is a longstanding member of London First. Membership of the association provides a pathway for UCL’s academic expertise to reach and help organisations in London.

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