Leadership During a 'Permacrisis'

With so many global challenges occurring simultaneously, bosses need to lead differently, says best-selling author Dan Goleman.

Daniel Goleman is author of the international best-seller Emotional Intelligence and of the forthcoming Optimal: How to Sustain Personal and Organizational Excellence Every Day. He is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. 

In 2022, the Collins Dictionary declared “permacrisis” its word of the year, defining it as “an extended period of instability and insecurity, especially one resulting from a series of catastrophic events."

No doubt, this is where we find ourselves—living amid a series of intensifying global challenges. In the best of moments, we have the energy to face reality with hope. In the worst, we are racked by pessimism—aware that the current wars and environmental degradation are only the beginning.

In 2023, three leaders—a former UK prime minister, the chief economic adviser at Allianz, and a Nobel Prize winner in economics—took the concept of “permacrisis” and wrote a book by the same name. The 300-page work proposes a three-part diagnosis and plan for addressing the overlapping crises of inflation, poor policymaking, climate change, inequality, rising nationalism, and diminishing global collaboration. The plan concludes with a call for global organizations, governments, and decision-makers to “be ready to show leadership.”

The authors have been criticized for taking a narrow view and being limited by their assumptions. The Guardian wrote that reading the book was like being “held in the sheltering hand of leadership and encouraged to think that the world is run by reasonable people who respond to reasonable arguments and can be guided towards conclusions that work best for everybody. Yet what about the history of the past few decades makes us think this will be the case?”

While opinions on approaching “permacrisis” may differ, what many of us routinely overlook are the roles played b y our inner emotions and psychological orientation. Strategies—what we might do about a thing—are sometimes only as good as the motivation and outlook that underpins them.

When we think of what “leadership” means in 2024, we are more and more likely to define it not only by what gets done, but also by how a person shows up in the world. This is one reason Emotional Intelligence has been such a game changer for the business world: It focuses on the emotional and relational skills that underpin a leader’s success in achieving their visions and executing their plans.

In his first column of the year, Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry, announced that his headline for 2024 is selflessness.

“At times, it may be too easy to focus all our attention on what’s wrong in what’s right, rather than what’s right in what’s wrong,” he writes. “We live in a world in which differences appear to overshadow commonalities. Given our human nature, we may tend to criticize the systems rather than asking how we can each be the solution.”

Burnison proposes a powerful question: “What if, as we begin 2024, we think more about the progression of others around us? Their well-being, advancement, growth….”

This is in stark contrast to the reactive leadership most of us have seen modeled throughout our “permacrisis,” a style of leadership that focuses on me, my team, and my organization without looking more widely at the wider world. But selflessness goes beyond this to look at how decisions ripple across borders, cultures, and ecosystems— affecting not just me and mine, but the planet as a whole.

It might be that showing leadership means being ready to think as far beyond oneself as possible. 

Co-written by Elizabeth Solomon


Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.