What leaders read, dealing with disruption, and boiling frogs

Appearing in In the Black magazine, 2021

Burnout Survival Kit: Instant Relief from Modern Work
By Imogen Dall
Bloomsbury, 192 pages, $25

Like a frog being boiled, we can become used to ever-increasing levels of work-induced stress – except that at some point it becomes too much, and crashes in on us. Eventually, the frog is cooked. Dall, a writer who has personal experience of near-burnout, has good advice on how to recognise the signs. Panic attacks are a sure indication that things are slipping, and she shows how to create a space of personal calm, with breathing exercises and coping statements.

A slow build-up of stress, usually involving insomnia, anxiety and depression, is more difficult to deal with. It requires understanding the causes and getting away from them, with scheduled breaks and some digital de-toxing. She suggests that you give yourself ‘permission slips’ – a way of allowing yourself to do things you enjoy (“to drink wine in the bath” is a good one). Make a point of connecting with family and friends, she says, and talk about anything but work.

For the longer term, knowing when and how to refuse unwanted projects is important. It might even be necessary to downshift or to change careers. Fine, says Dall. After all, no-one ever died wishing they had spent more time at the office.

The Leader’s Bookshelf: 25 great books and their readers
By Martin Cohen
Rowman & Littlefield, 232 pages, $64

Cohen is interested in why certain individuals are outstanding in their fields, and he provides an answer in the way they approach the books they read. The people he discusses are avid readers and always have been. Investor/philanthropist Warren Buffett consumes hundreds of books a year, while Barack Obama counts Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls as a lifelong favourite.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, share a fascination with the novel Dice Man, about the balance between risks and rewards. Steve Jobs’ reading focused on a search for meaning in life, and he often returned to Be Here Now, a collection of aphorisms connected to Eastern philosophy. Evelyn Berezin, a pioneer in the tech sector, credits the early sci-fi magazine Astounding Stories as providing a ‘conceptual grid’ for seeing things differently. Oprah Winfrey, who treats reading as a path to authenticity, cites Gary Zukav’s The Seat of the Soul as her inspiration.

Cohen covers a great deal of ground, and includes summaries of the books mentioned. The recurring pattern is that highly successful people read widely and intensely as a way to not only build knowledge but also to understand the world, their culture, and themselves.

Power-Up8: Discover the 8 Critical Capabilities to Navigate an Unpredictable World
By Debbie Craig
KR Publishing, 310 pages, $38

The end of the COVID-19 crisis might be on the horizon but disruption of some sort is going to be a permanent part of our lives, says Craig, a South African consultant. The silver lining of the pandemic might turn out to be that it has underlined the necessity of developing the right mindset to deal with unpredictability, and the importance of working to make the world a better place.

Craig lists eight changes in thinking, with the themes of avoiding complacency, enhancing social responsibility, and acting with self-awareness. It begins with a level of self-examination that can be difficult but Craig offers useful guidance on the questions to ask, and there are several diagnostic tools in the book. She draws on a wide range of resources, and looks at the experiences of people who have mastered the practice of imaginative thinking.

A part of the creative process is being willing to move out of the zone of the known. This means acknowledging the possibility, and probably the reality, of occasional failure. Don’t be afraid of it, Craig says; only be afraid of not learning from it. Embracing change is never easy but in the end it is the only way forward.

Downloadable Resources

Banking troubles

The end of the COVID-19 crisis may be in sight but the long-term implications for the banking sector are very problematic, according to the latest McKinsey Global Banking Annual Review. The immediate issue is severe credit losses, which are likely to continue into 2022. Then, with a muted global recovery, the sector will face continuing pressure. The study sets out several possibilities: in the base-case scenario, US$3.7 trillion of revenue will be lost over the next five years. Most of the major banks are sufficiently capitalised to survive but any solid recovery to balance sheets is a long way off.

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The old one-two: Banks could lose $3.7 trillion in revenue over five years | McKinsey & Company

Expert insights

This weekly podcast is a spinoff from Harvard Business Review magazine, and it provides a searchable collection of research and insights. Rather than free-flowing interviews each podcast focuses on a specific topic, a format which allows for in-depth analysis and discussion. Contributors include academics, authors and industry figures. The subjects range from organisational effectiveness to culture to branding to career development. Episodes that are particularly worth catching are the discussions by author Martin Lindstrom on how to inject common sense into bureaucracy, business coach Mimi Nicklin on managing across generational divides, and academic Marissa King on different methods of networking.

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Capturing carbon

Bas Sudmeijer heads a team within global consulting firm BCG developing options for carbon capture and storage to combat climate change. In this TED Talk he discusses proposals for a network approach: partnerships between local governments, national governments and companies that would share the cost and geological resources needed to collect and store carbon emissions underground. He looks at several trial projects that have been successful, noting that the technology is readily available. The cost would be significant but no greater, says Sudmeijer, than many other infrastructure projects that have been undertaken around the world in the past seventy years.

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Job hunting mistakes

In an interesting article, specialists from Hays Recruiting examine the most common reasons for not landing a desired job. A mismatch between your online CV and your real-world interview is a regular failing, as is not backing up claims with solid evidence. All jobs now have a digital element so it is important to demonstrate your tech knowledge and your ability to upskill. The Hays specialists also suggest that any inappropriate material on your Facebook page should be deleted, as employers will look at your social media. One more piece of advice: be sure to turn off your phone during the interview.

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Challenges for boards

A report from Deloitte, Leading in a Brave New World, has found that most company boards in Australia have risen to the challenge of the pandemic, and that there will be positive and permanent changes. Resilience and social responsibility have moved up boardroom agendas, as well as long-term planning. The chairs of 46 ASX100 companies were interviewed for the study, with questions including immediate responses and the impact of the crisis on corporate strategy. The report was structured to reflect Deloitte’s Respond, Recover, Thrive model, with an emphasis on unlocking a ‘new normal’ in which organisations can grow and succeed.

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