In the UK at least, lockdown in relation to work practices appears to be here to stay for a while. I’m aware that many people had some form of self-improvement on their early lockdown to do lists but that most of our ambitions proved to be too big to juggle with work and perhaps childcare and looking after others and Zooming friends and…gasp for breath.
However, what I have found is that I have a space in my life for small tasks – little extra things to fit in the gaps between meetings, or to do at the table next to my six-year-old, or to make me feel as though I have learnt something new today.
Therefore, I’m going to share with you the books, websites and podcasts that are getting me through lockdown. Some of them are specifically related to leadership and management; some are a bit; and some aren’t at all. That’s intentional, and because I increasingly believe that good leaders have broad knowledge bases and challenge their minds and bodies with a range of activities that are not all about leadership.
1. The mainstay: Harvard Business Review
HBR have made their coronavirus coverage free to all readers during lockdown (there’s no need for the usual subscription). https://hbr.org/insight-center/coronavirus?ab=articlewidget-insightcenter-coronavirus
They have some absolutely excellent content that they have developed already and no doubt more to come.
Resources from HBR that I have found particularly helpful during this time are:
https://hbr.org/2020/04/coaching-your-team-through-uncertain-times – advice includes putting yourself in the shoes of your employees to think about how you would like to be led; and encouraging employee reflection regarding what their jobs should look like now and in the future.
https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-answer-an-unanswerable-question – whether it’s about redundancies; furloughing; the company’s future; or when you’re going back into the office, this is a great template for how to handle questions that you simply don’t know the answer to.
https://hbr.org/2020/04/leaders-do-you-have-a-clear-vision-for-the-post-crisis-future – talking to colleagues in the US, I am not sure that the UK is quite in the same post-crisis mindset yet but when that time comes, this is a great article for informing steps into the next new normal we’re going to face.
2. Widening your world-view: The Conversation
Whenever I can, I spread the word of this brilliant website, which has the tagline ‘Academic Rigour, Journalistic Flair’. In other words, they take (often uninterpretable) academic research and translate it into something we’re all happy to engage with. It’s a great one to bookmark if you’re looking to widen your knowledge away from just being about leadership, or what the newspapers are reporting. Current highlights which you won’t find elsewhere include a podcast on four scenarios of how the world may look after Covid-19; a piece on how we get creative with language to cope with crises (‘new normal’, ‘covidiot’, ‘Blursday’ and ‘quaranteems’, for example); and five classic isolation movies recommended by a film scholar (I had to Google three of them). But whenever you show up to The Conversation, you’ll find something worth reading. I increasingly share the view of David Epstein (who wrote the rather amazing Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialist World) that those who are great at what they do are not narrow, but broad. And so a good leader shouldn’t just steep themselves in knowledge about leadership – they should read widely, think widely, and bring all that wisdom, empathy and divergent thinking back to their leadership role.
3. The Virtual Gallery Tour: National Portrait Gallery
As a leader, I think it can be really fascinating to reflect on what has been expected of leaders and how it has changed through the years. When I work with clients one-on-one (coaching, or helping them to develop their leadership skills through tuition), I often suggest we hold our first meeting in the National Portrait Gallery on London’s Trafalgar Square. We start with the earliest portraits of people we deemed important enough to paint, forward to today. Who counts as a leader? How does the way that we portray them show our changing expectations on our leaders? No longer are they like Queen Elizabeth, with her symbols of power over her subjects. They are painted more softly, more expressively, just as we regularly expect our leaders to be. If you want to have a go at doing this online, then you can look at the mini-collections that the museums have put together of Kings & Queens and Politicians. You will see that only the most modern ones soften the lens.
4. The ‘ooo I didn’t know that’ podcast: 50 Things That Made The Modern Economy by Tim Harford
I totally love this podcast. The episodes are short (around 10 minutes each) and they encourage you to see the world around you in a very different way. Looking at objects as diverse as auctions, fast food franchises (one of my absolute favourite episodes), the clock and the Billy Bookcase (from IKEA) are covered. Every episode is guaranteed to make me think. And even when it’s about something more typical, you will always be in for a surprise. For example, you might think you know how stock options or the spreadsheet shaped the modern economy, but even these episodes will surprise you with what they share.
5. The leadership book for our times: The Mind of the Leader by Hougaard and Carter
There are so many leadership books out there that it is normally hard to pick just one – just one – to talk about. But for me, this one would win hands-down at the moment. It argues that leaders today need to lead with compassion, mindfulness and selflessness. But there’s nothing fluffy about it. There are no pictures of clouds, no aphorisms, no demand for scented candles or sheepskin rugs in your office.
It’s based on an incredibly solid evidence base and is full of clear, well-expressed advice – once you are convinced of the argument – of how to go ahead and be a compassionate, selfless, mindful leader.
My biggest takeaway was that we all need to slow down and think about what we are doing with a clear head and a clear heart. If we can join up the machinations of our brains with the pounding of our hearts then as leaders we can be greater than we have ever been before. With mindfulness and compassion so much at the forefront of advice to leaders regarding how to lead themselves and others remotely, the book feels as though it was very prescient. If you haven’t read it, you must. Even if you don’t read ‘books like that’, you must.
Just kidding, I have a sixth, but top 6 doesn’t sound quite as good!
6. The ‘flex my creative muscles’ activity pack: Art is where the home is activity pack by FirstSite Art Gallery
Sure, it says it’s for kids. But who cares? The activities in this art pack are fun and frivolous – low stakes and high rewards because you get to be an artist for half an hour, or ten minutes, or two. Good leaders are not scared of challenges outside their comfort zone. They are not scared of looking foolish if a higher principle is at stake. And here it is: the principle that being creative helps us to express ourselves, to relax, and to escape everything that is going on, if only for a few moments.
If you can get your hands on Grayson Perry’s Art Club (if you are somewhere that you can stream or download shows from the UK’s Channel 4) you will find a similar challenge being laid down each week. And it’s certainly something, that if you are looking for an activity to base some online sharing and fun with friends or your team, you will find to be something you can do. Why not all do a self-portrait in lockdown and share it as part of work drinks? It’s a more interesting topic for the digital water-cooler chat than who has managed to get a supermarket delivery slot this week.
I’m feeling quite preachy on the creativity agenda because in our house, we spent half an hour yesterday afternoon in our house drawing each other’s portraits. We could have been terrified. But Grayson promised us that in the age of smartphones, we don’t need our portraits to be an accurate likeness. We need the process to be exciting and the end result just ‘to be’. We are going to follow Grayson’s art club every week and create a gallery in our hallway until lockdown ends.
Do you have any other tips that I should know about for leaders during lockdown? If so, I would love to hear them! Contact me and let me know.