Leader Surrealism

Making Sense of The Week That Was: 21st Century Leadership — Who do we need to be to lead into the future?

Grey Swan Guild
19 min readDec 17, 2021


News Wrap Edition #48 of Volume 1 | 17th December 2021

Editor: Louise Mowbray with Rob Tyrie

Over the years, we’ve come to understand that leadership, very simply, is why people choose to follow one another in the context of what’s going on in their/our world at the time. And leaders come in all forms. Those who inspire, those who bully and cajole, those who are agile, empathetic, compassionate or inclusive, patriarchal, matriarchal, racist or sexist. The visionaries, the Pied Pipers, and those who are cultish and downright terrifying. History is a wonderful window on the world and we know that people with all of these traits have led ‘successfully’ at one time or another.

So who do we need to be in today’s emergent world of work? What ‘personality traits’ or qualities correspond to the business, societal and environmental challenges and opportunities we’re all facing, as we turn our attention to 2022 and beyond? Who would you follow? What are you doing that would inspire others to follow you?

Over the last couple of years, the traits we’ve identified as being fundamental to being a successful leader have shifted. The war cries for “hustle, grit and grind”, which were so loud in the few years preceding the pandemic, have quietened somewhat. And it's no surprise. Our context has changed. We’ve been on a rollercoaster ride, journeying through a foreign landscape needing a different array of skills and a fresh new mindset and perspective.

We’ve learned much about ourselves. We’ve dug deep to unearth and hone strengths we might not have used much — and become conscious of blindspots we could not previously have begun to fathom. Ours and other peoples’ mental and emotional health have been front of mind and we’ve normalised talking about how we feel in the workplace.

We’ve also heard much about how we need to be more innovative, resilient, agile, empathetic, compassionate, inclusive, courageous, collaborative and so much more. All well and good if these come naturally to you, but, can you and I really get better at doing this stuff? Can we be more of these things?

The simple answer is yes — and we have some great research to prove it. Behavioural science-based organisations have been hard at work measuring how our personalities might have changed over the course of the pandemic. In one study from Lumina Learning, in association with Henley Business School in the UK, CEO’s from across the sectors, around the world (N= 1,040) have become more ‘people focused’ (accommodating, collaborative and empathetic) with more open access to those they lead.

There is also a long list of ‘mental models’ or our lenses on the world, which, when developed, will help us navigate the future better. Sense-making, futures thinking, critical thinking, systems and design thinking all spring to mind. And there are no shortages of organisations to help us to be ‘lifelong learners’.

The Personal Development Market (Books, e-Platforms, Personal Coaching, Training, Workshop & Seminars) size was valued at US$35,05 Million in 2020 and is projected to reach US$51.65 Million by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 5.08% from 2021 to 2028. In parallel, the Executive Education Program Market is projected to surpass US$ 37.8 Bn in 2021 with an expected CAGR of 11.2%.

“Don’t make up your mind. “Knowing” is the end of learning.” Naval Ravikant

In this edition of The Wrap, the news desk of The Grey Swan Guild explores recent examples of Great, Good, Bad Ugly and the Unknown or Emergent in leadership being played out in real-time, with a few lists, studies and ‘top ten's thrown in. All designed to give you food for thought as we ponder who we need to be, and who we might consider following in 2022...

Why not join us on Clubhouse this Sunday the 19th December at 8am PST |11am EST | 4pm GMT | 6pm SAST to connect the dots, make sense of it all, have your say and engage with your favourite Grey Swan Guild Wrap Editors: Doyle Buehler, Sylvia Gallusser, Sean Moffitt, Agustín Borrazás, Rob Tyrie, Louise Mowbray, Ben Thurman, Antonia Nicols, Esmee Wilcox, Geeta Dhir, Gina Clifford, Su McVey, Howard Fields, Scott Phares, and Lindsay Fraser.

And with all of that said, we’ll start by putting leadership into context. Let’s Wrap.

“Leadership is over glorified…” Derek Sivers

The Grey Swan Guild — Join Us to Think and Learn

Thought Leadership, Signals, Lists, Compilations 🤔

Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

1. We shall overcome. 💡 2021 Review: Top 10 Thought Leadership Studies. If anything reveals the stuff we have been thinking about most during the course of 2021, it’s the studies we‘ve gravitated towards. PRovoke Media have selected the top ten Thought Leadership studies for 2021 as a part of their 2021 Review in the following categories: 1. Overcoming vaccine hesitancy | 2. Black lives still matter | 3–5. The Great Resignation | 6. Fearless leadership | 7–9. Asia’s changing expectations | 10. Behave yourselves (business ethics). Well worth digging into if you want to put the year into perspective. What, in your view, will 2022’s list include?

2. Trend, trend everywhere a trend. 💡Amy Webb (Thinkers50 - one of the world’s 50 most impactful management thinkers), CEO, the Future Today Institute, published her annual letter “2021 Signals Inventory + 2022 Look Ahead” listing the 11 primary sources of macro change impacting business, government and society. Amy’s annual inventory is a way to think about the evolution of technology, science and humanity as part of a long continuum designed to stimulate your own thinking for 2022, which includes 10 Big Themes For 2022: 1. Decentralisation, 2. Metaverse, 3. Synthetic Biology, 4. Techlash, 5. Space Race, 6. Work From…, 7. Biological Chipsets, 8. News Media, 9. AI, 10. Geoengineering and 2021 Retrospective: Tech + Science Signals: Artificial Intelligence | Blockchain | Cryptocurrencies, DAOs, Tokens & NFTs | Decentralized Finance | China | Chipsets | Covid-19 | Climate | Cybersecurity | Gaming | 5G + Space Internet | Meme Stock Craze | Metaverse | Quantum | Silicon Valley | Space | Miscellaneous. Warning: you need time for this one and keep the tab open in your browser, you’ll probably come back to this again and again…

3. The Promised Land.💡15 Leaders share the books that inspired and changed them. The World Economic Forum hosts a fortnightly podcast titled Meet The Leader featuring the world’s top changemakers, showcasing the habits and traits effective leaders can’t work without. This weeks’ special compilation talks to 15 leaders from Boston Consulting Group, Bank of America and IBM to mention a few, who share books that will inspire, surprise and change you. We admire that “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” made a list in a far cry from the sullied “In Search of Excellence”. Broadly categorised into ‘Leadership books that inspire, teach and challenge ideas, you’ll no doubt find something to write to Santa, Krampus, or Jultomtem about.

4. Back to Black. 💡Wait, was that racist?! A new encyclopedia can help you avoid saying something offensive. Micropedia is an intuitive resource on everyday microaggressions that those from marginalized groups face, which are often subtle and hard to define. At a time when ‘cancel culture’ really is a thing, the Micropedia aims to be a nonjudgmental way for people to learn about what might make someone else feel uncomfortable. Stephanie Yung, head of design at the creative agency Zulu Alpha Kilo, led the design and creation of the Micropedia. She, along with many on her team, had experienced microaggressions over the course of their lives but couldn’t find a reliable one-stop resource for tackling them. Yung’s team came up with the idea of Micropedia, a collection of microaggressions sorted by such things as race, gender, and disability. The sleek, streamlined platform makes it easy to view a variety of offensive comments in a range of areas; drill down further, and the site explains why each comment is harmful including real-world examples and links to a slew of outside reporting.

The Great 😇

Emzini WeCode

1. Zimbabwe | A Zimbabwean youth at Berkeley has created free online coding classes to help others get similar scholarships. Having been inspired by an introductory coding and computer science class at Berkeley, Eric Khumalo is replicating his experience for talented students in his home country — launching their academic journeys into schools like Northwestern and Stanford. Like many young Zimbabweans, Eric didn’t have a lot of options. He found a breakthrough moment, however, in a U.S.-sponsored school near his home town of Wulau. A fascination with coding merged with a desire for sharing knowledge, and a background in teaching that would result in Khumalo starting Emzini WeCode (“The House of Code.”). Emzini WeCode is an education program that has grown from teaching locals in Zimbabwe classrooms at the American embassy, to hosting online classes for more than 1,000 students. We hope this connects to One Lap Top Per Child to get those student computers too.

2.Switzerland | Neurodivergent people make great leaders, not just employees. One of the most pernicious stereotypes is that neurodivergent people can’t be leaders and are only a good fit for subordinate positions or highly technical or select contributor roles. Bias against neurominorities in the workplace is staggering, with 50% of UK managers stating that they would not hire neurodivergent talent. Workplace access and success barriers result in the unemployment rate of autistic college graduates in the U.S. as high as 85%, while 46% of employed autistic adults are over-educated or overqualified for their roles. Prominent examples such as Richard Branson, Charles Schwab (dyslexic) or Elon Musk , Bill Gates (autistic spectrum) are explained away as rare exceptions. Saying this, there is some great news on the horizon. This year saw the establishment of the Institute of Neurodiversity (ION), founded by former Chair of the Institute of Directors and governance expert Charlotte Valeur with a global steering group of neurodivergent individuals and allies. ION is based in Geneva, Switzerland and is the world’s only umbrella organisation that represents all neurodiverse groups. It aims to have 1 million members drawn from 100 countries by 2025. Follow ION on LinkedIn.

3.USA | A song by US rapper Logic that references the name of a suicide prevention helpline led to a “notable increase” in the number of calls to the service and may have reduced the number of suicides, new research has found. Titled 1–800–273–8255 — the number for the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the song generated strong public attention. Research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) showed that following these events an additional 9,915 calls were recorded and there was evidence of a reduction in the number of US suicides. The song, which features Alessia Cara and Khalid, remained in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 US music charts for several weeks. The song’s release was also associated with a nearly 10% rise in online Google searches for Lifeline in the 28 days thereafter. The analysis found that 1–800–273–8255 was associated with a call volume increase of 6.9% to Lifeline during the 34-day period when public attention to the song was substantial. Over the same period there was some evidence of a reduction in suicides amounting to 245 fewer suicides, a decrease of 5.5%, the study showed. This is a classic application of feed-forward or cybernetics and Duhig’s Nudging for good. We like it. Don’t try suicide.

The Good 🤩

Al Jazeera | Nobel Peace Prize winners Dmitry Muratov from Russia and Maria Ressa of the Philippines pose with their awards during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at Oslo City Hall, in Norway [Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo]

1.Norway | Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia, both journalists, shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded during a pomp-filled ceremony in Oslo, where both warned that the world needs independent reporting to counter the power of authoritarian governments. The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded them the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for their separate fights for freedom of expression in countries where reporters have faced persistent attacks, harassment and killings. In 2012, Ressa, 58, co-founded Rappler, a news website critical of the Philippine government. Muratov, 59, was one of the founders in 1993 of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. The award highlights the plight of journalists around the world, who daily put their lives and liberty on the line to bring us the news. Hug a journalist today and be grateful for the watchers.

2.USA | Leadership During Covid-19. The Disaster Recovery Institute International (DRI), the leading nonprofit in business continuity and resilience training, has joined with Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) to develop a new report, “Covid-19: An Analysis of Leadership Styles and Outcomes.” This research uses the coronavirus pandemic to inform future preparedness and response efforts. “For the resilience community and executive leadership across all industries, the pandemic has become the challenge of their careers,” said Chloe Demrovsky, President and CEO of DRI International. “This report offers an insightful look at the extraordinary responses by leaders in the public and private sectors, and will provide a roadmap for navigating the next crisis, whatever form it may take.” Researchers interviewed executives from a variety of industries — including aviation, energy, education, healthcare, manufacturing, engineering, technology and retail — to gain an understanding of their “meta-leadership” capabilities, a holistic view leaders take on when managing complex crisis situations. You can download the report here. Read it. There is at least a 50% chance that you did not get supported by great leaders. 1. Know that they are out there. 2. Support them and vote for them. We can change.

3.Global | Meet the top young Entrepreneurs on the Forbes Under 30 2021 List. As North America settles in for a long pandemic winter, there are bright spots on the horizon. 600 Of them. The 600 young entrepreneurs, activists, scientists and entertainers featured in the 10th Annual Forbes 30 Under 30 give everyone reason to hope. Some are defying the odds and building businesses despite Covid-19; others are helping to fight the illness, serving on hospital frontlines or working with A.I. to discover new drugs. This year they were photographed by one of their own: Mamadi Doumbouya, a 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea who appears in this year’s Art & Style group. Collectively, Forbes’ Under 30 trailblazers have raised over $1 billion in venture funding and are proof positive that ambition and innovation can’t be quarantined. Thank you, children. Thank you, young adults. You make us soar.

The Bad 😬

USA | Appallingly bad behaviour. 🤬 The chief executive of Better.com apologised for his manner of handling layoffs at the mortgage company after a video of him firing 900 people last week via a Zoom call went viral on social media. Vishal Garg, who has come under intense criticism after the SoftBank-backed company laid off about 9% of its workforce through the video call, said he had “blundered the execution” of communicating the layoffs. “I realize that the way I communicated this news made a difficult situation worse,” Garg said in a letter dated Tuesday. He is now taking “time off” from the company while it conducts a “leadership and cultural assessment”, according to an email to employees from the board of directors. Following the news of the layoffs, reports of Garg’s past insensitive comments and behaviour began to trickle out; Motherboard reported he once referred to a top investor in Better as “sewage” and reportedly told Better employees that instead of taking a day off for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it was better for them to work and earn the company “capital, and therefore our freedom. Call the Karma police please.

2.South Africa | During Ocean Day at COP26, a broad coalition of government leaders and ocean advocates known as Blue Leaders called for immediate action by heads of state to protect the world’s vast ocean and its precious biodiversity from the many harmful impacts wrought by climate change and human activities. Despite this, and massive public protests and local court applications, the Royal Dutch Shell‘s seismic survey searching for oil and gas deposits on the sea bed along South Africa’s Wild Coast is now underway. Greenpeace Africa has called for blasting to be halted in an area known for the Sardine Run, one of the greatest annual marine events in the world. Other notable organisations calling for a stop to seismic exploration and the protection of The Wild Coast and the Great African Seaforest include The Sea Change Project, which was founded by the team behind My Octopus Teacher, which won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature this year.

3.UK | Almost 100 Conservative lawmakers voted on Tuesday against new coronavirus restrictions, dealing a major blow to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s authority and raising questions about his leadership. After a day of frenzied failed lobbying, Johnson was handed the biggest rebellion against his government so far by his party over measures he said were necessary to curb the spread of the new Omicron variant. The new rules, which included ordering people to wear masks in public places and use COVID-19 passes for some venues, passed thanks largely to the main opposition Labour Party. The revolt piles pressure on Johnson, already under fire over scandals such as reported parties in his Downing Street office last year — when Britain was in a COVID-19 lockdown — and a pricey refurbishment of his apartment. Rebelling lawmakers said the vote was a warning shot that he needed to change how the government was operating, or he would face a leadership challenge.

The Ugly 😱

The Guardian | Afghan girls selling water at Lake Shuhada in Kabul on 1 December. Photograph: Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP/Getty Images

1.Afghanistan | Will leaders in the west stand by and allow a million children to die this winter? The World Health Organization estimates that 1 million Afghan children under five will die of starvation this season. Another 2.2 million will suffer acute malnutrition — unless urgent action is taken. Relief organisations have warned for months of an impending humanitarian catastrophe, which has now arrived. “Hunger in the country has reached truly unprecedented levels,” the UN refugee agency said on 3 December. “Nearly 23 million people — that is 55% of the population — are facing extreme levels of hunger and nearly 9 million of them are at risk of famine.” If the international community, and especially the US and Britain, which abandoned the country in August, is to prevent or even mitigate this coming disaster, it must act now.

2.USA | Victims of Larry Nassar, the former doctor for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, reached a $380 million settlement on Monday with the USA Gymnastics governing body, U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and their insurers after a five-year legal battle. The settlement will cover claims brought among others by Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, who were among Nassar’s most high-profile sexual abuse victims. According to court filings, more than 500 victims have sought compensation. Nassar, the main doctor for Olympic gymnasts for 18 years, was sentenced in federal court in 2017 to 60 years in prison on charges of possessing child sex abuse material. The following year, Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years and up to 125 years, respectively, in two separate Michigan courts for molesting female gymnasts under his care.

3.USA | Tesla Hit By 6 More Sexual Harassment Claims. The numerous stories of sexual harassment at Musk’s companies come a day after Time Magazine named him its person of the year. In October, Tesla was ordered to pay $137 million to a Black employee who had sued the automaker for racial discrimination. In the six suits filed on Tuesday this week, the women describe a workplace environment where it’s normal for women to be catcalled, ogled, touched inappropriately and propositioned. The women describe the frequent use of crude language and groping by male colleagues–and the failure of supervisors and human resource department staff to take action. Musk is the world’s wealthiest person, with a fortune Forbes estimates at $251.9 billion. Tesla shares fell 0.8% to $958.51 in Nasdaq trading on Tuesday.

The Undecided 🧐

Korea Times | An artificial intelligence-generated image of main opposition People Power Party presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol speaks in a video clip which was played during the inauguration ceremony of Yoon’s election camp, Monday. Captured from People Power Party YouTube channel

1.South Korea | South Korean presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol launched an AI-fuelled avatar of himself, inventively named AI Yoon Suk-yeol. Yoon is the candidate for the main opposition People Power Party, and says the avatar will campaign on his behalf in parts of the country he can’t visit. AI Yoon Suk-yeol sports a photorealistic rendering of Yoon’s face, and a deepfake version of his voice. Korea’s presidential candidates are capitalizing on digital technologies to win more support by having virtual characters powered by AI substitute for themselves in election campaigns. The attempts, however, are sparking debate over the political ethics of the practice due to the potential deceptiveness of AI-created characters showcasing prepared audiovisual content only, as well as concerns over “deepfakes,” video clips using fabricated images which are extremely difficult to identify as real or fake.

2.Global | The Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Tomorrow’s Business Leaders. Business schools are still operating out of a 50-year-old paradigm and they need to change. The Financial Times publishes its Global MBA Ranking of the top 100 business schools each year and this year Insead, London Business School and the University of Chicago Booth ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd with salary increases for graduates of 96%, 103% and 121% respectively. With this type of salary hike, it’s easy to understand why an MBA is still a highly attractive option. However, the jury is out as to whether business schools deliver the type of leaders business, society and the environment need in our future world of work. Whilst many schools have added an array of subjects to their curriculum (including climate science, consumer psychology and ESG investing), we are also seeing a raft of mini-MBA’s and a new breed of education companies challenging traditional business schools. The reality is that business always moves faster than academia… HBR’s “The Future of Leadership Development” is also worth a read.

3. Global | Women in the boardroom: A global perspective. Despite the fact that the most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability (McKinsey), women’s representation in the boardroom is a mixed bag. The good news is the number of women on boards is rising across the globe, however, the rate of increase has slowed for three of the past four years. In the UK, FTSE 350 boards have made progress on gender diversity, but there are still too few women in senior leadership positions including Chair, CEO and CFO and over the course of the pandemic, the number of women in the workplace around the world has plummeted to pre-2017 levels.

Another aspect worth considering on the VC / investment front:

  • Globally, firms owned by women or people of colour manage a mere 1.3% of the investment industry’s $69 trillion in assets. This equates to $4 trillion missed value in the investment industry due to not investing in more diverse founders.
  • Female Funders are twice as likely to invest in start-ups with a female Founder and 3x more likely to invest in a company with a female CEO.
  • Only 12% of the Venture Capital decision-makers in the US are female, yet 69% of the top-performing funds have female General Partners.

It will take us 200 years to reach equal representation at this rate of progress.😢

The Tapestry

The collection of images, videos and charts delivered by the zeitgeist that is the internet and the news cycle. We didn't start the fire.

Memes of the week:

The 3rd Edition of the mitten-man calendar issued for 2022. Cycles. Varients. Mittens, Masks and Politics.

Books of the Week:

“In Atlas of the Heart, we explore eighty-seven of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human and walk through a new framework for cultivating meaningful connection. This is for the mapmakers and travelers in all of us.

Adam Grant, the identifier of languidness, challenges people to rethink their position. Using research, storytelling intellectual horsepower and a deep understanding of human psychology Grant give leaders tool to grow. At the centre of the thesis is at the top of human growth development, is a capability to empathetically and actively reflect on the past and on new information or evidence and rethink things to change one’s point of view. So if you think a frog won’t leap out of a pot of boiling water, or teaching is you at the front of the room lecturing and cajoling students, well, as Grant reached, think again. Read the book and think like a scientist, if you can.

Lexicon — Ubuntu

Ubuntu (Zulu pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼù]) is a Nguni Bantu term meaning “humanity”. It is sometimes translated as “I am because we are” (also “I am because you are”), or “humanity towards others” (in Zulu, umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu) — Oxford Dictionary

“Ubuntu-Thinking” is the centre superpower of truly great leaders who create the conversation of community — I am because we are. Time to re-think that in our organisations.

Video of the Week:

Hey Mr. Zuck, the bar has been set by the Icelanders in their IRL version of the Metaverse. Will Facebook lawyers seek an injunction for the volcanoes and heated mineral springs? This clever tourism promotion is on of the top examples of trend hacking in the, well, metaverse in 2021.

Charts of the week:

Visual Capitalist
Leaders recognise where they and their people are in this curve when change emerges. Chart by Lori Britt

Infographic of the week

Quote of the week:

“Everything is the way it is because it got that way.” D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, On Growth and Form

We’d love to hear your thoughts about leadership, what it means to you and who you think we need to be to lead into the future? Join us on Clubhouse this Sunday the 19th December 2021 at 8 am PST | 11 am EST | 4 pm BST | 6pm SAST to make sense of it all, have your say, and engage with your favourite Grey Swan Guild Wrap Editors: Doyle Buehler, Sylvia Gallusser, Sean Moffitt, Agustín Borrazás, Rob Tyrie, Louise Mowbray, Ben Thurman, Antonia Nicols, Esmee Wilcox, Geeta Dhir, Gina Clifford, Su McVey with Clubhouse Captains Howard Fields, Scott Phares, and Lindsay Fraser.

About Us:

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Grey Swan Guild

Making Sense of the World’s Biggest Challenges & Next Grey Swans — curating and creating knowledge through observation, informed futurism, and analysis🦢