Good Readers Make Better Thought Leaders

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Christopher G. Fox

As a thought leader with deep expertise in a specific area of fintech or banking, you likely spend a lot of time keeping your industry knowledge up-to-date. Most of the thought leaders I work with are avid readers of industry reports, whitepapers, news articles, blogs, social media feeds, and more.

Industry knowledge is essential. You might even feel like there’s never time to build enough of it. There’s always something new to learn.

Nevertheless, focusing only on industry knowledge can inadvertently become a limiting factor for your reach as a thought leader. Reading widely in many disciplines and genres helps you complement your depth with the necessary breadth. It makes you a better writer, a clearer speaker, and a more fluent communicator. It gives you a broader sense of how to think through a set of issues and articulate a point of view on them. And, finally, it adds to your toolkit for persuading and connecting with audiences.

There are several genres that I read regularly. I don’t read them only instrumentally to hone my business craft, but beyond my enjoyment, I can’t help but notice the impact of this reading on the skills I use with clients.

Briefly, here’s what each of those genres can give you (and a few personal favorites in each if you’re looking to add to your reading list):

  • Philosophy: Rigorous, detailed, and nuanced arguments with a readiness to question and scrutinize assumptions.
    Favorites: Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Soren Kierkegaard, Emmanuel Levinas
  • Theology and Religion: Systematic exploration of the implications of belief systems, as well as seeing some of the most globally influential texts “in action.”
    Favorites: Karl Barth, Gershom Scholem, Paul Tillich, The Upanishads.
  • Current Events: A broader understanding of the big picture context of your industry. Since finance and media are everywhere in most people’s worlds, it helps to learn more about those worlds.
    Favorites: Umair Haque, George Monbiot, Shoshana Zuboff
  • Leadership/Management: Actually, not so much. Most books in this genre don’t offer a lot of the value I am talking about. A summary of the key takeaways may be enough in most cases. But there are a few exceptions.
    Favorites: Jerry Colonna, Seth Godin
  • Fiction: The exercise of the art of storytelling, including structuring a narrative, creating empathy, and seeing others’ perspectives.
    Favorites: Charles Dickens, Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Clarice Lispector, Marcel Proust
  • Poetry: Focused and concise use of words as a medium, with a feel for metaphor and an ear for the harmonies of language.
    Favorites: Anne Carson, Mary Oliver, Wallace Stevens, Walt Whitman
  • Essays: Engaging ways of getting from point A to point B while exploring the many facets of a topic.
    Examples: James Baldwin, Walter Benjamin, Joan Didion, Anne Lamott
  • Psychology: Exploring and understanding the deep patterns and forces that motivate people to believe and change.
    Favorites: Erich Fromm, James Hollis, Carl Jung

It’s by no means an exhaustive list. I’ve left out many other genres that can also refine your writing, communication, and thinking. But regardless of the genres you explore outside of your expertise, you’ll find you come back to your practice as an expert with sharper skills and broader perspectives. So even with all the industry information you consume, be sure to read more!

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