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The Lone Leader

By Sylvia Gallusser

This text is a fiction piece addressing the topic “Emergent Leadership in the Wake of a Pandemic” and focusing on defining one's identity as a leader in the new paradigm. The fiction illustrates what it is like to be an entitled leader and still feel lonely and useless, as remote work has overly exposed us to each other's private and family life.


He regretted having gone for the longer loop around Hilltop Crest that morning. He knew it would be tight, but the challenge had been alluring. Seven minutes to make a coffee, take a shower, launch the video conference app.


“Sorry I’m late, my previous meeting ran a bit over,” he lied to his reports after logging in. He quickly scanned the tiles, everyone was there, even Lori. Could they see through his lie? He looked at the tile video of himself; he still seemed pretty red in the face from the run. “Shall we go around the room for project updates?” He usually started by giving his own updates and top-down directives from his own manager, but still slightly out of breath, he didn’t want to attract too much attention to himself at the beginning of the call.


1:1 with Lori. He quickly glanced through the Google Docs where he logged quick notes of all his 1:1s. Good thing with Lori, he had a few minutes to review and prepare. Main focus for the day would be to balance Lori’s time between her ongoing project creating a dashboard for marketing and the new task force meeting she had just gotten pulled into, given her subject matter expertise in SQL. He was upset to say the least, but those were VP-level decisions. A voice called out suddenly, “Hi Carl!”. He toggled screens and saw Lori in her now very familiar setting: an old wooden chair covered with marker stains, a stack of board games in a corner table, and a window which made for terrible backlighting depending on the time of day they synced up. “Hi Lori!”


He quickly shoved another forkful of pasta in his mouth, then used his other hand to cover his chewing. Wednesdays were perfect for lunching: over 50 people in an hour-long knowledge-sharing session, nobody would notice, and he saved some precious time. He would spend the remaining time of the meeting responding to emails, nodding from time to time; he might even ask a question toward the end to fake interest. Or if the pasta put him in a small food coma, he would just toggle through the tiles and observe people’s backgrounds. Finding little pearls was always fun. An older brother hitting a sibling. A spouse looking annoyed at a meeting dragging on. A baby tripping on a LEGO piece.


This was it, only a handful of minutes until his last meeting of the day, but given the status quo on who would be maintaining the data ingestion pipeline, not only had the last 30 minutes been a complete waste of time, they also screamed for a new follow-up meeting to be rescheduled. He had tried hard to avoid that, but Carol’s stubbornness had gotten the better of him. She repeated over and over, as she scratched the top of her ugly cat’s head, that her team had no bandwidth whatsoever.


Carl stared at his now silent screen. Some more emails had stacked up, he was hoping he could get a zero inbox before 6 pm, maybe 6:15. Then he would start cooking pasta again, but with less cream than yesterday, the leftovers hadn’t gone too well at lunch.

Pick up where he left-off in Netflix, and a bit of social media junk before calling it a day. While this was the quietest time of the day for him, he could visualize how crazy things were in the households of all those he had talked to today. More sibling-fighting, baby screaming, anxious pets, and furious spouses.

How he envied them all.

Editors’ Note: Thank you to Sylvia Gallusser for submitting the Grey Swan Guild’s first piece of future fiction.

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