Leadership in times of crisis

What’s different now?



By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
Lancaster University Management School

United Kingdom



We all seem to recognise that we live in changing times with rapid advances and wider interactions with nature, ecosystems, and societal concerns. For guidance and direction in such unprecedented times we turn to our leaders. Indeed, leaders are crucial to navigating and guiding organisations, especially in times of turbulence, change and uncertainty.

Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends Survey draws attention to the crucial role of leadership in a world characterised by disruptive digital business models, augmented workforces, flattened organisations and an ongoing shift to team-based work practices (Volini et al., 2019). The study indicates that leaders are being pressured to ‘step up and show the way forward’. Yet, the study concludes that while organisations expect new leadership capabilities to deal with the emerging challenges, they are still largely promoting traditional habits, models and mindsets—when they should be developing skills and capability, and measuring leadership in ways that enable leaders to navigate through greater ambiguity, take charge of rapid change, and engage more deeply with external and internal stakeholders.

Year after year, organizations tell us they struggle to find and develop future-ready leaders. In this year’s Global Human Capital Trends survey, 80 percent of respondents rated leadership a high priority for their organizations, but only 41 percent told us they think their organizations are ready or very ready to meet their leadership requirements.” (Volini, 2019: p.1)

And this was before the Covid-19 global crisis…

We see leadership pipelines and development at a crossroads at which organizations must focus on both the traditional and the new. Organizations know that they must develop leaders for perennial leadership skills such as the ability to manage operations, supervise teams, make decisions, prioritize investments, and manage the bottom line. And they know that they must also develop leaders for the capabilities needed for the demands of the rapidly evolving, technology-driven business environment—capabilities such as leading through ambiguity, managing increasing complexity, being tech-savvy, managing changing customer and talent demographics, and handling national and cultural differences.” (ibid.)

The Deloitte survey reports that eighty percent of respondents indicate that leadership now seems to impose unique and new requirements on organisations. These in turn suggest that new approaches are needed to manage organisations in times of change and turbulence. The new skills required from leaders are identified in Table 1.

Table 1. New leadership needs (after, Volini, 2019)

Whilst organisations have traditionally struggled to identify and develop leaders with the requisite capability, experience and motivation to address existing challenges and requirements, the enormity of new environments and contexts and the new situations that emerge present a new order of novel challenges.

May you live in interesting times

The Deloitte study refers to an intensifying combination of economic, social and political issues that appears to fundamentally challenge existing models, approaches and capabilities. Indeed, management consultant, educator and author, Peter Drucker famously observed that ‘the greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence, it is to act with yesterday’s logic’.

Approaching today’s problems with yesterday’s frames of thought and tools for action may miss the insights from both yesterday and today and ignore the emerging opportunities of tomorrow, and the operational necessity to identify potential disruptions and new players within the external environment. Strategic management thinking has thus developed an appetite for disruptive players, emerging platforms, blue ocean thinking, lean start-ups and transformational change indicating an acceptance of the transformative capability of new players and technologies, and the need to widen the scope of interest to new contexts, players and potential stakeholders, and thereby learn to encompass new opportunities.

When faced with a crisis or a new challenge, many leaders are found to be wanting. Donald Sull (2009) observes that we often respond to turbulence by accelerating activities that worked in the past. “We lapse into inertia when we should adapt with agility, and we cling to rigid dogmas when we should improvise. But throughout history, volatility has not only dethroned incumbent leaders, it has also created untold possibilities to create economic value.” (ibid., front sleeve).



To read entire paper, click here


How to cite this paper: Dalcher, Darren (2020). Leadership in times of crisis: What’s different now? PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue V, May.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/pmwj93-May2020-Dalcher-leadership-in-times-of-crisis.pdf



About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Author, Professor, Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
Lancaster University Management School, UK


Darren Dalcher, Ph.D., HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI, SMIEEE, SFHEA is Professor in Strategic Project Management at Lancaster University, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has written over 200 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Software: Evolution and Process, a leading international software engineering journal. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series Fundamentals of Project Management.  Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, A Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the British Academy of Management. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He sits on numerous senior research and professional boards, including The PMI Academic Member Advisory Group, the APM Research Advisory Group, the CMI Academic Council and the APM Group Ethics and Standards Governance Board.  He is the Academic Advisor and Consulting Editor for the next APM Body of Knowledge. Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal.  He is the academic advisor and consulting editor for the forthcoming edition of the APM Body of Knowledge. He can be contacted at d.dalcher@lancaster.ac.uk.

To view other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.