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Imperfect Leadership





We are in unprecedented times of crisis and the rules of leadership are being re-written daily.

Employees, teams, organisations and whole industries are experiencing uncertainty like never before. Direction is needed and decision making needs to be quick and impactful, yet the new rules of play are not understood.

We are in many ways a society in mourning, mourning what was known, and fearful of what might be ahead. The Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle (1969) suggests that before we reach a place of acceptance and can start to move forward we experience strong emotions which may include anger, denial, confusion, anxiety and overwhelm. 

As I experience these emotions myself and observe them in others I am wondering about the following:- 

  1. We are in unprecedented times; we’ve never been here before, so do existing models of great leadership and leading in a crisis even apply or do we need to discover new ones?

  2. There is an increasing narrative of judgement and criticism from the sidelines of how organisational and society leaders are behaving and making decisions.

  3. There is a decreasing level of human compassion for others and an increase in focus on self (and how much toilet paper one can hoard!).


We are seeing some great examples of leadership and indeed many examples of imperfect leadership which is not surprising given that for 99.9% of leaders this is a first for them. Our responses to imperfect leadership however are interesting. I’m observing (and have caught myself engaging in) behaviour that resembles the crowd on the sidelines of the sporting match, beverage of choice in hand, shouting at the referee, telling them how to do their job properly.

I’m happy to admit that I don’t believe the decisions and behaviours we are seeing are all examples of awesome leadership – some things are absolutely challenging my values and yes I’ve yelled my advice at the TV once or twice in recent days – yet I do believe that our leaders are for the most part doing the best they can in an environment that is new for every human being and leader on the planet. 

If we look at what the globe is experiencing through the eyes of systems ecologist C.S. Holling and the Holling Cycle (1986) we are experiencing a period of release at almost every level of society. Release is about capacity to survive and comes with the need to improvise and survive under extreme disturbance. In this environment networks and relationships are key to maintaining vital functions. New and emergent leadership can surface at this time which will come with inexperience of leading through times of extreme disturbance. Sound familiar?

If we follow the Holling Cycle after release comes reorganisation, where systems find capacity to renew, learn, reorient and move forward in different ways. There is no fixed term on how long this can take but in order to get there it requires input from all parts of the system. That’s the interesting thing about systems, we are all part of the same whole on some level.

If we work on the premise that we are all part of the same whole then we all have a role to play in leading ourselves and others through this crisis and each of us will make imperfect choices.

At IECL we are focused on enabling more conscious and connected leadership in organisations through coaching philosophy and approaches. We’d love to hear from you if you are struggling with any of the above and discuss how we might partner.

By Jane Porter


connected leadershipconscious leadershipHolling CycleImperfect leadership