A Playlist for Leadership

Leadership Playlist

When the Status Quo No Longer Serves Us

When the pandemic began, I started to do deeper reflections on leadership—what the dispositions and habits of an effective leader might be right now. All around me I saw a rift forming between leaders who had deeply cultivated the habits and dispositions of leadership and those who had been able to succeed by perpetuating the status quo. The latter were flailing. I then wondered about the transcendent qualities of leaders and what it takes to thrive in times of great uncertainty, which led me to ask: What are the skills and habits that keep leaders grounded, visionary, inspirational, and transformational? What kind of leaders do we most need right now?

Hulu to the Rescue

I’ve also been watching lots of television these days, and currently, I’ve re-ignited my love of music, television, and literature through watching the Hulu series, High Fidelity. This show is based upon a novel by Nick Hornby and a film of the same name (inspired by the book), but this reboot centers the present day as Rob (Zoe Kravitz), a lovelorn music expert who owns a record store, chronicles her heartbreaks and life experiences in a series of playlists. I was inspired by this notion of a playlist, and so as I mused about leadership and about life right now and about all this television I’m watching, I started to do a mental mashup between my musings on leadership and the media that was most informing my experiences.

And I thought if present-moment leadership could be encapsulated in a playlist with some liner notes, it would include the following five tracks:

Track 1: Be human; stay humble.

The biggest misnomer about leaders is that they are somehow larger than life, or that one who leads has to embody an unattainable ideal. But the present moment calls for leaders who are firmly planted in who they are right now. When I was a leader, I felt even more human than ever, more vulnerable. And the actions I shared that were most humane were the ones that had the greatest impact—ensuring people stayed home when they were sick, sharing genuine appreciations, respecting people’s time and setting boundaries, saying I’m sorry. Showing our humanity and ensuring humanity in our work is what helps our organizations thrive.

Track 2: Communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more.

When I was a writing teacher, I used to tell students that I can’t see inside their heads so they need to spell things out to me, even if it may seem obvious to them. The same goes for leaders. Communication is the vehicle for stability and health in an organization. Share your thinking. Share your decision making. Preface hard conversations with a brief message about the topic. Follow-up. Preview. And determine the best medium for the communication as well: call, email, or face-to-face meeting.

Track 3: Listen, listen, listen.

Good communication is key, just as good listening is. You can lead a meeting where you do very little of the talking and do most of the listening. Spend some time hearing what people are saying. Reflect on what you hear, mirror it back, ensure you’re clear and follow up about things that are unclear to you. When people feel listened to, they trust you. They’ll be more productive.

Track 4: Know and grow.

Leaders who know themselves will emanate that knowing in the broader community. Spend the time to understand your emotions, your upbringing, your conditioning—how you were raised, what your identifying markers are, how your identity has impacted you and the opportunities you’ve received. Knowing yourself—the light and shadow sides—keeps you committed to your growth, and it’s an excellent model for others.  Additionally, take the time to get to know the people you work with—early and often. Meet with people one on one. Know their stories. Know what they like, how they communicate, who they are on a team, how they learn best, what appreciation means to them, and what their values are. The better you know your people, the better you can serve your organization.

Track 5: Understand power.

If you lead, you hold power. If you hold power, you have opportunities for how you wield it. You need to explore how power functions in your organization and ways you can skillfully use it. You need to know how systems can support the people you work with and how those systems can cause harm. Then use your power to create new systems, or to co-create where you can—co-design vision, co-design process and outcomes that are nurturing and inspiring for everyone. Consider new ways of being and knowing and making and creating. It’s important to do your homework on power and where it resides and then make decisions that repurpose that power for organizational transformation.

Bonus track: Ask for feedback, and act on it.

We only know our leadership is working or not working when it is mirrored back to us in feedback. Ask for feedback in regular intervals. Process feedback and share what you’ll do, what you won’t do, and always, why. Asking for feedback further cements trust, gives you opportunities to shift and pivot when needed, and lets you know what’s working best.

I’m sure if you asked me tomorrow, I’d come up with a whole new playlist for leadership. There’s so much leaders can learn and do and know to be more skillful, to be transformational, and to create organizations that have the power to change the world. What kind of leader do you want to be? What does your playlist look like?

What I’m Listening to Now

“Catch and Release” Matt Simons

“Lovely Day” Bill Withers

“My Sweet Lord” George Harrison

“Back to Black” Amy Winehouse

“Dancing in the Moonlight” King Harvest

“I Will Survive” Gloria Gaynor

“Girl on Fire” Alicia Keys

“Shake it Off” Taylor Swift (**guilty pleasure**)

“Freedom” Beyoncé

“Tangerine” Led Zeppelin

“Redbone” Childish Gambino

“Cold Little Heart” Michael Kiwanuka

“I Feel it Coming” The Weeknd

We created a playlist you can check out… here’s the link! (You have to have a Spotify account to listen)


Jessie and Elena will discuss Leadership in Times of Crisis in a FREE webinar on May 20 at 3:00 PM Eastern Time. They will engage in a discussion that will include some interactive pieces focused on the critical importance of good (to great?) leadership in times of crisis.

Live participation is limited to the first 1000 attendees.

Register in advance for this meeting:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.


We’ve written about leadership before. Check out a leadership playlist of other blog titles below.

Check out our blog posts under the “leadership” category here.

Here, Elena writes about the qualities of a great school leader.

Here’s another blog post on Reflecting On Yourself As a Leader.

Check out Lori’s post – Strong Leadership Lies in Strong Coaching.

The Art of Coaching Teams – Elena’s second book focused on how to lead and coach teams. Check it out here.