The Vision for WUL and the Story Behind It

by: Betsy Loeb

It was at the end of another excellent discussion in our Wake Up Leadership meeting that Willy Stewart said the words that sum up this book club: “This is life-changing stuff here.”

On the surface, we’re a group of people that get together once a week to discuss a book chapter in the context of leadership. But if you spend a few minutes joining the discussion yourself, you’ll see that it’s so much more than that. We’re sharing what we learned from the chapter, what it made us feel and think of; we’re sharing personal stories and learning from each other’s insights; we’re growing as leaders, as professionals, as tiny humans on a big planet. And it all started with an idea Willy had when he let his mind wander.

Willy said he first had the idea to start a leadership book club when he was on his way home from church one morning and reflecting on the sermon. He started thinking about how everybody is a leader, and everybody can be influential if they put the proper work ethic towards that. He realized that even in our company where we encourage training and growth more than many other firms, it’s often technical training. We should give an opportunity for everyone in the company to grow and learn about leadership in general.

After a fortuitous meeting with Brad Lomenick, the author of H3 Leadership, Willy felt that would be the perfect book with which to kick off the book club. He didn’t want it to be a faith-based gathering, but he wanted it to be a safe environment if people wanted to talk openly about their faith in the context of the discussions. Willy felt Lomenick’s book was the perfect combination of leadership and faith that would get the group started. It would allow people to enjoy a book with a faith perspective, without saying that’s what this book club is about; it’s not a bible study club. It’s an environment where people in all levels of the company feel safe to express their thoughts, their life, without thinking they’ll be judged or criticized.

At the first meeting, he thought they might get half a dozen people, but 20 showed up. Now there is a group of 45 people signed up from all corners of the firm, along with friends and family members that call in. 

Willy admits that some people might not have stuck with the club after the first book, but he’s certain that, on the flip side, some people might have had their life transformed by sharing the hard stuff in life. He enjoys seeing who shows up at the meetings each time, seeing who is allowing this to make the difference in their lives.

Meetings are led by volunteers who have stepped up to begin the discussion bright and early each Monday morning. Willy wanted to make it clear on the first day that it’s not his club; it’s not a Stewart club; he’s not going to lead it. Instead, everyone at the table has the chance to be courageous and volunteer to lead the discussions.

As we near the end of one book and look forward to what we will learn from the next, Willy knows this idea could really take off and it could be scaled from company to company. It will undoubtedly grow as more people see that waking up a little early can be just the kick they need to wake up from sleepwalking through their life and begin living life on purpose.