I realized early after my business launch that women, but especially for BIPOC folks, leadership can feel lonely. Most of us believe that being humble is equivalent to quiet and that celebrating our accomplishments means we are arrogant.
Those two beliefs, and perfectionism, are the core of the leadership coaching I do with Latinas every day. But coaching is not for everyone, and with this need to build a community of women who are ready to own their leadership journeys, I decided to launch a book club.
I had a list of 20 Latinas interested in exploring the next step in their careers and were having issues finding mentors or prioritizing a long-term commitment to coaching, so I emailed them one night, and 12 said yes! Our group has shifted these past months, from just emails to monthly meetings to a private Facebook community, a group chat, and monthly presentations on topics like meditation and financial planning. On January 7th, 2021, we came together to talk about our fears after the riots on the US Capitol; we are celebrating new babies, fertility journeys, promotions, and helping others during a grieving period. We are 10 (and counting) Latinas from all around the US building our tables and changing the leadership world one day at a time.
We are 10 (and counting) Latinas from all around the US building our tables and changing the leadership world one day at a time.
What started as a monthly book club meeting has turned into a network of powerful Latinas supporting each other every single day. You can replicate this magic, and it will look different, but here are some lessons you can take to launch your leadership book club.
Consider these 5 things when launching a leadership book club
1. Zoom fatigue is remediated if you prepare in advance
The first thing you and the group should do is define what leadership means to you. If the book club is a time for folks to be open and honest and address the challenges folks might be experiencing at work or business, you don’t need more than 30-45 minutes for the first meeting, and interruptions might even be welcomed. In our book club, we say that if you have to choose between decompressing with us and finish cooking, do both. We encourage cameras, but they are not required, and pajamas and a snack are a must. Some of us also have children at home, and we say goodnight or take a break to put them to bed. Others are wrapping up their gym or exercise routine and are walking back home.
If the book club is not a chore, then everyone will come as they are. If your book club is looking for more structure, I recommend doing a temperature check before starting each session (on a scale of 1-5, how present are you today?) and finding ways to prioritize joy as you chat. Every group should have agreements on the length of the meeting, how honest or open folks can be during the discussions, and ways to speak after the session is complete
If the book club is not a chore, then everyone will come as they are.
If you are discussing difficult or sensitive topics, have a couple of people volunteer in advance to stay and chat with folks and create a list of resources where people can find more information.
2. Just because you launched the book club, it doesn’t mean you own it
Allow the members to make decisions on the books the group will read, when meetings will are held, how communication will happen, and delegate some of the work as you launch. Create a space where everyone can step up or step back based on their needs or capacity and build a list of agreements for everyone to follow.
Start your first meeting with a list of 2-3 book recommendations, a summary of the book and author, and comments from other readers (Goodreads is excellent for this!). You might want to use Facebook Rooms or Google Meet for your meetings because they are free but allow other members to choose what platform works best for everyone. You are there to guide conversations as you launch and provide some direction. Still, the book club will and should mold into what the collective needs. Trust me; you should enjoy this experience just like everyone else, so don’t overextend yourself.
3. Leadership and career growth are personal, so follow the group trends
You might have leaders at different levels in their careers. The key is to find a balance on the topics everyone in the group is interested in. You can be in the first 2-3 years of your career or be an executive. Still, everyone in the group might need support in time management, having difficult conversations, managing a family, launching a business, or public speaking. Collect information and take notes during the book discussions.
Our group quickly found out that we were all struggling with building a squad as we read Minda Harts The Memo. Instead of talking about the 5 chapters we read for the meeting, we chatted for 2 hours about our experiences building relationships with other women, especially Latinas, and how we all struggled to find mentors or even friends who wanted to talk about professional development topics. We wrapped up that meeting committing to each other, created a group chat, and decided on what topics we wanted to read next (We love Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall). In one meeting, we went from being La Lider Book Club to La Lider Collective.
We chatted for 2 hours about our experiences building relationships with other women, especially Latinas.
4. Use the book club to help the members build their professional brand
It’s great to read and develop comunidad, but it’s even better when you can take what you have learned and share it with the world (or at least your LinkedIn network). We take a group picture at the end of each session, and we all share it on social media. We tag the authors and comment on what we have learned, what we agree or disagree on, and share articles we find online as part of our individual content strategy. Building a professional brand doesn’t need to be difficult, so lean into your network, and what better group to do it when you have folks who are committed and interested in growing in their leadership just as you do.
5. Find ways to stay connected in between sessions
As I mentioned before, one of the critical components of building a leadership book club that transforms into a community is ongoing communication. Poll the group and find apps or systems that everyone or almost everyone uses on their day-to-day. You might find that there is more than one app that the group wants to use, so decide what type of content everyone will be sharing on each platform and agree on how much you are posting. La Lider Collective has a private Facebook group where I schedule engagement posts, upcoming events, articles, and conversation starters. We also have a Whatsapp group chat where we engage in personal conversations, share funny videos, or update the group on our personal growth. Some prompts you can share are:
What is your favorite part of the book so far?
What key learning from the reading have you applied at work this week?
How are you keeping up with the reading? What strategies have been helpful?
What is your favorite quote so far?
Share a picture of you reading or listening to the book below.
What song reminds you about this chapter?
The group can also create challenges on TikTok, Instagram, LinkedIn, and many more platforms. You don’t need to find a new platform to stay connected, but you can also consider Slack, Goodreads, LinkedIn Groups, Clubhouse, Instagram, or Mighty Networks.
The key to launching and maintaining a successful leadership book club is to find a balance between learning and networking and making sure that everyone’s voice is being heard.
Paulette Piñero is the owner of LEAD Media LLC, a leadership coaching and management consulting firm that helps professionals of color get the confidence and skills they need to take the next step in their careers.