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Blog: What works and what doesn’t work for leadership in crisis?

Date 6.04.2022

Last week, Dr Hala Mansour, Associate Professor of Change and Leadership, provided a keynote speech at a national roundtable about leading in a crisis.

The focus was on the higher education sector and here she blogs about research findings in this area and the following discussions.


The roundtable discussion about Leadership in Crisis: A focus on HE was organised by the British Academy of Management and attracted 70 attendees, providing a forum to discuss the expectations on leadership during a crisis.

The roundtable has disclosed that Higher Education (HE), like many sectors, has been required to adopt a new leadership style during the crisis time of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The sector has witnessed a lot of disruption during the pandemic in many different levels (for example, the impact on learning and teaching, research, and wellbeing). Leadership is expected to play a significant part especially during crisis time. The experience from this period revealed the need to redefine the nature of leadership and investigate further how new leadership based on collaborative practice could create a way forward in HE.

The keynote speakers at the event provided examples that the expectations of leadership in crisis included effective leadership, appropriate strategy and grass-root advocacy and a sense of realism. The discussion concluded that the pandemic (as one example of the crisis that the sector is fronting) caused ethical dilemmas and emotional stress.

It is vital to reflect on what works and what does not work to benefit leadership during this crisis. The table below summarises our thoughts:

What works

  • Leadership in creating a new social coping system
  • Leading with flexibility
  • Leading with trust
  • Down – top decisions
  • Leading for new skills and staff development

What does not work

  • Leadership with lack of optimal communicating (the culture of silence)
  • Leadership with lack of timely decisions
  • Dysfunctional group dynamics and organizational pressure
  • Leadership with stress and wellbeing ignorance

One of the main points discussed were things that respondents wish HE leaders had done differently during the pandemic, such as issues not being cancelled or delayed and being acted upon. They also thought that having – and, still having in a post-pandemic world –materials and tangible recognition of the impact on reduced research activity and outputs as a result of reduced working time, access and mental health during the pandemic. This should be proactively acknowledged in promotions, access to research time, funding and support.

Recommendations provided that leadership after the pandemic will focus on a move towards power through connection with a shared purpose with open approach of sharing ideas and co-creating change.

The HE sectors’ leadership should move from transactions to relationships-based leadership. I’m working as part of a team of collection advisors for a research platform about leadership in times of change. We’re looking for submissions that bring together knowledge on leadership from a wide range of business and management disciplines. The deadline is 14 September and you can find out more here.