As manager of what is essentially a city of 23,000 people, Col. Lyle Drew is one of the busiest people in Middle Georgia, but he still makes time to read every day.
He is the 78th Air Base Wing commander at Robins Air Force Base. When he arrived last summer, he started looking for a book club to join, but he couldn't find one.
So he started one himself, and it's open to everyone with base access. Once a month any aircraft mechanic, janitor, pilot, retiree or fellow commander on base can sit down and talk books with the man who is unofficially known as the "mayor of Robins."
Military leaders commonly issue reading lists for people serving under them, Drew said, but he always thought it should go a step further.
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"There is no dialogue and discussion about it," he said during the book club meeting he held Monday. "You told me what you read, but why is it important to you? More importantly, I kind of want to talk to you about what you get out of it."
Drew is a fan of the traditional book rather than electronic versions on computer tablets that are so popular these days. He appears not to be alone in that sentiment. Most of the people who have come to the meetings have had the actual book. He doesn't like reading on tablets, he said, because it's too easy to get sidetracked by reading something that triggers an urge to do an online search.
"I find this doesn’t get me distracted," he said, holding up his hardback copy of the book being discussed. "It’s a singular book in front of me. It’s just me and the book. I put the phone in the other room."
He held the first club meeting in January and plans to keep holding them each month as long as he's at Robins. Each month there is a session in the afternoon and in the evening. Normally about a dozen people show up.
The books are themed at professional development, and they are generally best-sellers aimed at a general audience, not just the military or even just leaders, although Drew calls it a leadership book club. The first book was "Daring Greatly" by Brene' Brown. February's book was "Difficult Conversations" by multiple authors.
The book discussed Monday was "What Got You Here Won't Get You There" by Marshall Goldsmith. It's about how people shouldn't believe that the same things that have succeeded for them so far will be the what they need to advance further in their careers.
Lt. Chase Hicken, an aircraft maintenance officer with J-STARS, was at Monday's meeting and said he liked the book.
"This book is going to help you realize how to build the important relationships with people and how to build trust in an organization so that you can be a successful leader," he said.
One of the important lessons in the book that Drew said he's had to practice more in his current job is the importance of just listening rather than barking out orders. That, he said, is because running a base is so much different than anything else he has done.
"When I walked into this job, I didn’t really have any experience — no one really does — in the job of running a base," he said. "We all come in from a very specific world. Now you get thrown into something totally different. One day you are dealing with a huge power outage on the base, and the next you are dealing with people not liking that their appointments at the clinic aren't going fast enough. Most of my day is unexpected."
Although he doesn't have it on the reading list yet, Drew said his favorite book on leadership is "Lincoln on Leadership." He said he has given hundreds of copies to young airmen.
The next book on the schedule is "Talk Like TED," by Carmine Gallo. It's about building confidence in public speaking. The meeting is scheduled for April 23 at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the Heritage Club.
The times, dates and books for further meetings are posted on the base's Facebook page. All of the books are available at the base library.