Leadership Strategies Dealing With Crisis as Identified by Administrators in Higher Education



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This study?s purpose was to glean a comprehensive list of the leadership challenges faced and strategies utilized during campus crisis and tragedy. It also sought to examine the goals of leadership at different phases of a crisis, aspects of leadership focused on, and recommended leadership practices to follow. A typology was created to identify appropriate crises. The typology classified crises as (a) institution as victim, (b) natural disaster, or (c) institution having legal liability. Fourteen interviews were conducted at eight schools. Interview transcripts were segmented into units for analysis. These data units were coded, grouped into categories, and named as themes. Once all themes were identified, overarching themes established the findings. Eight major challenges were identified for campus leaders during crisis: (a) leading in spite of a loss of control, (b) coping with deficient, inadequate, or non-existent technical and human crisis response measures or systems, (c) evaluation of leadership decisions occurring almost simultaneously to leadership actions, (d) altering operations and relationships, (e) managing transitions within the life of the crisis, (f) communicating about the crisis, (g) dealing with multiple constituency groups, and (h) dealing with longterm effects. Ten categories of strategies were identified: (a) making safety the priority, (b) leading planning and policy development, (c) garnering resources, (d) leading intentional communications efforts, (e) clarifying the leadership infrastructure, (f) accepting responsibility for crisis leadership, (g) modifying the leadership approach, (h) framing the crisis for others, (i) leading the healing process, and (j) leading efforts to learn from the crisis. Study findings suggested that it is not the type of crisis but the amount of devastation that determines leadership challenges and approaches. Leadership challenges evolve through predictable stages, invoking a broad range of leadership skills and concepts. During crisis, campus leaders focus on collaborative, symbolic, and logistical leadership. Sharing a common orientation during crisis is facilitative in the decision-making process. Policy development is a powerful means of bringing structure to a chaotic situation and of demonstrating an ethic of care. Findings from this study provided not only an overview of leadership challenges and strategies during campus crisis, but insight into a variety of crisis types, and practical application strategies for university administrators.