Black Isle Group chairman Atholl Duncan spent one hundred days interviewing various pioneers in the corporate and entrepreneurial field, compiling the conversations into the release of his new book Leaders in Lockdown: Inside Stories of Covid-19 and The New World. The fact the spine of the book’s narrative is comprised of intensive, first-person experienced dialogue on Atholl’s part makes the read feel small and intimate, in spite of the gargantuan themes, technical focal points, and corporate psychology tactics. The first three chapters are unapologetically colloquial for a book of this genre, Duncan providing an introduction to the story based entirely on his own personal experience.
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With titles like My Life in Lockdown and In the Beginning, the prologue section of Duncan’s book almost recalls the grimly witty intro of the film adaptation of the bestseller The Big Short. Duncan communicates his points and observations the way a novelist would, doing everything possible through complex analogy and rich description to show rather than tell. This is especially effective with some of the considerable profiles he interrogates, stand-outs including decorated military general Stanley McChrystal, New York Times President and CEO Mark Thompson, Keenon Robotics CEO Li Tong, and Tradeshift CEO Christian Lanng. Duncan’s approach is especially a pleasure when it comes to studying the minds of these considerable figures. Already semi-mythic because of their accomplishments, the book’s humanization of them is one its most distinct highlights.
Another highlight is the virtue Duncan stresses is becoming apparent in how every leader is approaching a post-pandemic workplace. The lack of in-person sessions and meetings when it comes to company transaction has required a technological leveling of the playing field. Notable, and somewhat cringe-inducing examples include a technically failed deposition given to Maxine Waters, or the certifiably viral video of a Texas lawyer giving a statement with a cat filter. The tech illiteracy many preceding generations possess has forced standard industry hierarchy to take a holiday, maybe never to return.
Many CEOs now are speaking about leadership styles encompassing top to bottom personal investment in company goals, rather than an exclusive harboring of knowledge amongst the higher echelons. Each subject of Duncan’s set of interviews, however varied, has spoken about their individual approach to the same set of standards now at play. Ultimately, as he writes in one of the book’s final chapters, it comes down to “…saying what they (don’t) know as well as what they (do)…” Throwing out mentalities like being by the book is also crucial to long-term success. “George Hongchoy of Link Asset Management told us about his 3Cs – collaborate, communicate and care. He said, ‘You can never communicate enough’,” Duncan writes. In true holistic form, what makes compassion and what contributes to being prolific now are interlinked, and not a blessed moment too soon.
A pertinent quote from Vladimir Lenin graces an early part of the story. “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen.”