Is There a Crisis of Leadership?

Developing Well-Equipped Leaders

By Tom Roth, Michael Leimbach, PhD

“A typical crisis plays out . . .”

Crises are not new to our world, to our countries, or to our organizations. Real-world crises produce rapidly changing conditions and upheavals that leaders need to respond to, recover from, and thrive in for future organizational success.

An unsettling statistic from Gartner’s early 2019 survey reveals that half of organizational leaders say they aren’t well equipped to lead their organizations in the future. Put another way, with the future certain to hold some kind of change or tumult, 50% of leaders feel ill equipped to handle it.

Are we facing a situation in which we have a critical mass of current and next-generation leaders who are not well equipped to lead organizations in the future? If that is true, might the next crisis we face be a crisis of leadership?

This prompts the question:

What qualifies as a leader who is well equipped for an uncertain future?


Deloitte Insights believes that a typical crisis plays out over three time frames: RESPOND, in which a company deals with the present situation and manages continuity; RECOVER, during which a company learns and emerges stronger; and THRIVE, in which the company prepares for and shapes the 'next normal.'

Consciously Competent Leaders

At Wilson Learning, our view of a well-equipped leader is someone who possesses both clarity (the “know how to” of essential leadership skills) and grounding (the “know why” of the skills’ importance and impact). Those well equipped with clarity and grounding are leaders who are Consciously Competent—they are good leaders, and they understand what makes them good leaders.

Conscious competency matrixAs conditions change, consciously competent leaders have the ability to assess the situation and adjust or adapt as needed. This heightened leadership agility and flexibility to respond to change is urgently needed in today’s environment when priorities shift and organizations must pivot to respond and recover.

Unfortunately, most leadership development efforts are geared to develop leaders only to level 3; Unconscious Competence. That is, there is a focus on teaching new leaders the skills necessary for effective leadership (clarity), but not taking that next step to ensure grounding, appreciating the “why” of leadership. As a result, leaders are effective when conditions are normal, but when there are major disruptions or crises, these leaders fail to adapt.

What is needed are new approaches to leadership development that focus on the “what” and the “why” of leadership.

Research shows that organizations have not been prioritizing development of the next generation of leaders. Most organizations have not developed a strong bench strength, are not mentoring or coaching new leaders, and are not using leadership development approaches that meet the expectations of new leaders.

— Michael Leimbach, PhD, VP of Global Research and Development, Wilson Learning Worldwide

Essential Leadership Capabilities

Ultimately, preparing leaders for the uncertain and ever-changing world requires development of both Leadership Character and
Essential Leadership Skills.

Developing Leadership Character

Great execution of leadership skills rings hollow to both the employee and the leader if leadership character development is overlooked.

Recent research shows that high-performing organizations focus their development of leadership character on elements like integrity, empowerment of others, nurturing others’ growth and development, and empathy. These take on even greater importance when leaders are now tasked to thrive in disruption and an uncertain future.

A critical element of leadership development is the degree to which leaders show concern for the growth and fulfillment of their employees, as well as the integrity of their actions and decisions.

— Michael Leimbach, PhD, VP of Global Research and Development, Wilson Learning Worldwide

Vibrant, vital leadership development happens when leaders are consciously competent in leading themselves—they successfully lead others because they effectively execute leadership skills and they fully understand the why.

— Tom Roth, COO, Wilson Learning Worldwide

Tom Roth

“Tom Roth is Chief Operating Officer of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. (U.S.) and President of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. (Japan). With over 40 years of experience in developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions, Mr. Roth looks after the strategic direction and business performance of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. operations. He also leads the global marketing services and R&D solutions groups.

Mr. Roth assists global executive leadership teams with issues related to employee engagement, leadership development, strategy alignment, and business transformation. He is co-author of the books – ‘Unplugged: How Organizations Lose Their Energy and How to Get It Back’ and ‘Creating the High-Performance Team’. He is also a frequent speaker at national conferences and client events.”

Michael Leimbach, PhD

“Michael Leimbach, Ph.D. is a globally recognized expert in learning design and provides leadership for solution research and design solutions that turn learning into performance.

Dr. Leimbach has served as editor for multiple professional journals, consulted with numerous global clients, published over 100 professional articles, co-authored six books, and is a frequent speaker at national and global conferences. Michael received his Doctorate from the University of Minnesota and has worked in the learning and development industry for over 35 years.”