Managing in Challenging Times

Writing as far back as 1959, in his publication, Landmarks of Tomorrow, the great management consultant, educator and author, Peter Drucker, stated:


“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence. It is to act with yesterday’s logic.”


When terms such as turbulence, or challenging times are applied to our current situations and realities, it can create a sense of unease, at the very least, or genuine fear, at the very most. As the world slowly emerges from over two years of a global pandemic and watches nervously as the Russian invasion of Ukraine evolves, along with the dangers of global warning, to name just three major current events, challenging or difficult times would appear to be the order of the day.

In her online article entitled A Playbook for Managing and Leading in Difficult Times and Crisis, Leina Reinhard explains that she uses the terms ‘difficult times’ and ‘crises’ as broad terms that encompass:


Learning to lead in challenging times

“…all events that lead to unexpected, sudden, and high impact change and therefore can be difficult to process for humans.”


Such events can come in the form of the above-mentioned global pandemic, invasion of Ukraine and global warning. Similarly, these events can also be local, such as an unannounced HIQA inspection within a residential service, the CORU registration process for Social Care Workers within a human service or the ongoing challenge of securing adequate funding for a service. Additionally, local events can also include the everyday workings of a service like the management of conflict between and amongst team members, the energy required in maintaining motivation while ensuring and maintaining a high-quality service for the people availing of that service.


Leina Reinhard proposes eight key principles that managers should embrace when managing and leading in difficult and challenging times:

1. Manage and lead with empathy, with a focus on health and safety. Remember: Do no harm.

2. Communicate with all key stakeholders quickly and clearly. Communication methods used should be clearly understood by all stakeholder groups.

3. Do not make yourself the bottleneck and do not centralise all decisions to you. Delegation is a critical skill for the manager to possess and utilise in challenging times.

4. Contain context and provide focus. Containing context ensures that the manager attends to the current and immediate challenge rather than trying to solve everything at once.

5. Do not add further uncertainty and confusion. The manager must be clear in their communication with stakeholders and be clear around their expectations and the expectations of stakeholders.

6. Create and hold space for people to process and cope in the ways that are most useful to and for them. People respond in different ways to challenges and difficulties. Therefor the manager should create environments that are supportive and safe yet also encourage motivation and enhancement.

7. Do not make it about you and your feelings. Do not make situations personal. This can be achieved by ongoing reference to the purpose of your service and the organisation’s mission statement and objectives.

8. Lead with transparency. Providing key information reduces emotional distress and addresses concerns and fears. This demonstrates that the manager is concerned, involved and on top of the situation to the degree that is possible.


Returning to the Peter Drucker quote at the start of this blog. When Drucker maintains that the greatest danger in turbulent times is not the turbulence, but to act with yesterday’s logic, he might also be referring to the fact that it is dangerous to depend on old, tried and trusted ways of doing and achieving things. Therefore, learning new skills and learning about different ways of dealing with and managing in difficult times is imperative for today’s human service, health and social care managers.

Studying the management programmes delivered by the Open Training College will equip you with the skills needed to implement the eight principals outlined by Leina Reinhard above as well as being provided with additional skills and knowledge in order to manage even more effectively in challenging times.

Brendan Collins is the Programme Director of the Open Training College’s Management Programmes. Before joining the College in 1999 Brendan worked for Enable Ireland (formerly Cerebral Palsy Ireland) for many years in first line positions culminating in his developing and leading the Community Development Programme for adult service users in Dublin. During this time, he was also a member of the first cohort of students of the OTC’s management courses.

Apart from his OTC management qualification, Brendan also holds qualifications from the National University of Ireland Galway and University College Cork. Apart from his work with the OTC, he has also worked in a consultancy capacity with a wide range of human service organisations and also as a lecturer on the Lifelong Learning Programme with IT Carlow. Brendan is a board member of L’Arche Ireland and Health Action Overseas Ireland.

OTC Management Courses Director Brendan Collins

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