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Leaders Thrive on Information

Leaders need to be both broad and deep, and it helps if they can figure out what is coming. Where do they look for the right sorts of information?

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Leaders at all levels can only do the job if they understand the world around them and the people in it.  Only with knowledge can a leader figure out how to go forward, either to fit their businesses into the world, or to understand how to change the environment to better suit their needs. Leaders must stay curious, and peer around the corner into the future at least a little bit. The higher you go, and the more you want to contribute at a strategic level, the more you need to know beyond your technical area of expertise.

Where do smart people get their information? I did a quick, informal and decidedly unscientific poll of some very good and successful thinkers I know.  The question I asked was: Where do you get the information that you use for work? I let them define the boundary between work and non-work reading (I may include Vanity Fair – but others, understandably, may not). I gave them a 30 second response time – no gaming the judge.

Here’s what they came up with: 

  • “I read business magazines (Economist weekly, Fortune, Forbes, Financial Times)…mostly I listen hard to audiences where I talk to pick up tidbits that might be of interest.”  
  • “I read all kinds of stuff. The usual suspects, plus National Geographic and People (my daughter gets it).”
  • “I read:  The Economist, Business Week, Financial Times (London), Financial Times (India), and Far Eastern Economic Review (occasionally).” 
  • “Fast Company, The Futurist, Business Ethics, The Economist, Leader to Leader.”
  • “There’s no doubt that the majority of my information on a day-to-day basis now comes from the Internet. I’m regularly on the mainstream news sites – BBC, CNN and FT.com.  Abnormal Returns is also a great site with good links to credible news and blogs. When I’m at home [in Scotland] I still pick up the FT and regularly read The Economist. When I’m looking for something specific I use Harvard Business online or my own collection of books and articles. Google is an obvious favorite too. Occasionally I’ll pick up The Times or The Telegraph but not too often anymore.”
  •  Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal…Within the Asia-Pacific region, a lot of the leading research is conducted out of Australia. Otherwise… EY, McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Mercer, Hewitt, etc. Of course there are also the local research firms…  And if all else fails, there’s always the ever-reliable Google.”

·         “…[In Singapore] our bookstores are quite well-stocked… Ulrich, Collins, Tom Peters, Kaplan and many others. On periodicals, …HBR, Balanced Scorecard report, HRM, conference board…”

·         “Google, NY Times, Boston Globe, WSJ, and conferences.”

  • “NPR, The Week magazine, Internet surfing, colleagues/friends/spouse…”
  • “Recommendations from colleagues.  Local paper wherever I happen to be…  Internet. Harvard Business Review. The POPULAR new business books – the ones getting the buzz. My past experience is probably the information I rely on the most…”
  • “WSJ, E&F newsletter and emails.”
  • “nytimes.com, boston.com, google (of course) and from there other websites and white papers, my own library of business books, sales and marketing e-zines/thought leadership (like ITSMA, Sirius Decisions, CSO Insights), Newsweek (subscription), tap into my network of colleagues, Linked In, on-line alumni groups, Huffington post, Slate, Politico, amazon to search for themes in new biz books (then read the summaries and index), pick up HBS mag when articles look good….stuff like that.”

And here’s mine:

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  • HBR for the big thought pieces.  NYTimes.com and the Boston Globe for current events. Fast Company for innovation and ‘what’s happening’ kind of stuff. I used to read The Economist like a religion observance but have lost the habit – need to revive it.  Anything well-written stimulates my own thinking and creativity, and provides the larger context for leadership work in a complex world. So, I dip into Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Newsweek, Pink, National Geographic and Scientific American on a pretty regular basis. My husband wants to stage an intervention on my googling but I won’t be shut down.  If anyone I know emails me a link, I always follow it, and then follow where that leads me. I also read a lot of books. Just finished Tribes by Seth ‘we need YOU to lead us’ Godin to learn more about social communities – quite an interesting read.”

I  would love to hear your comments and additions to the lists above.  Please e-mail me at: ksweetman@rbl.net, and check out our Leadership Code book website for more on the five key elements of leadership: www.leadershipcodebook.com.

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