Monday, 20 July 2020


Sam Goldwyn said “it’s hard to predict especially when it comes to the future.” Forecasters are currently either catastrophists or Panglossian. On Friday one-time Father of the House, ex-MP and possibly the best Prime Minister we never had, Ken Clarke, said on the BBC Today programme we should probably expect the worst in terms of unemployment and company failures, that the exceptional economic downturn will destroy many small and medium sized businesses that aren’t quite good enough or needed enough and many nice-to-have, but not essential, jobs will disappear. 

On Wednesday I went up to London, the first time in sixteen weeks. The train from Brighton was almost empty, Victoria Station was quiet as was Central London. It was like a Sunday. John Lewis in Oxford Street was closed. The few people hurried past wearing masks. Return to normal? Definitely not. It’s difficult to see when and how the momentum will return. Difficult certainly for the taxi driver almost in tears who said to me that there was no business and that things were hopeless. Boris’ upbeat words and braggadocio will not be enough to shift that taxi-driver’s despair.

It’s all exacerbated by the lack of human contact. A big feature of my life has always been lunch. I was better at lunch than most. I almost lived in Odin’s, now gone (and what a tragedy that was.) Before anyone had heard of the term Odin’s tables were “socially distanced” from each other. I learnt more over lunch than I did at University. Lunch was when people went off script and told the truth, lunch was when trust was earned or lost. In its smaller and less satisfying way it was the coffee machine or water cooler where office politics happened. People are social beings not distanced.

Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams and the rest can’t replace spontaneous face-to-face conversation. Whilst it’s probably true that working from home can be more productive, teams will become harder to co-ordinate and motivate and leaders will have to find a new way of behaving. 

“What sort of leaders shall we need or get post Covid?” 

That’s what I was asked last week. 

Two things. Firstly when is post-Covid? Next year? Just when will the masks come off and the conversation turn from health? Secondly the models of leadership globally are not promising. In business Bezos, Zuckerberg, Musk and others like them are setting the pace. In politics, Xi, Putin, Trump, Erdogan are leading voices right now. The trend is towards egotistical authoritarianism.

In 1920 when Baseball star, Joe Jackson, admitted he cheated in the 1919 World Series, reporter Charley Owens wrote “Say it ain’t so Joe”. That’s how any lover of people would respond to the trend towards dictatorships.

Leaders we should hope would be less greedy, more modestly paid, better listeners, better teachers, more visionary, much more inspirational and much smarter.

If that happens we’ve a chance of getting out of the tunnel. But if not…..

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