Dissertations, Theses and Capstone Projects

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)



First Advisor

Dr. Neal P. Mero

Second Advisor

Dr. Torsten M. Pieper

Third Advisor

Dr. Dana Hermanson

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Charles J. Amlaner


Several extreme events are examined in this dissertation to better understand the implications of such events for expanding the existing knowledge of crisis leadership. Through interviews with leaders that had direct leadership roles in extreme events such as the Fukushima nuclear reactor explosions, Deepwater Horizon oilrig explosion, and Super Storm Sandy, in addition to national leadership, e.g. White House Situation Room, an in-depth, cross-case analysis of leadership in extreme crises is presented. Previous literature concludes that the abilities of leaders are second only to the cause of the event itself in determining the outcome of a disaster but due to the rarity of these events, there has been limited scholarly consideration of the implications of these events for leadership research and practice. Using an inductive, qualitative approach to analyze the interviews, the results lead to several conclusions. First, there is a need for this and additional research to clarify the meaning or unique challenges that define the characteristics of an extreme event crisis especially in the most extreme cases. Second, the importance of the effects of felt emotions including mortality salience on extreme leadership is profound on the thinking and actions of leaders in these events. Third, classic crisis management and leadership theories are insufficient for explaining the needed actions in responding to extreme events.

These conclusions were integrated with prior research to develop a model of crisis leadership based on a continuum of crisis events from routine to extreme. This model is developed around six leadership concepts either identified in prior research or developed based on the findings of this study. The model also identifies threshold points where routine crisis events become more extreme. At these threshold points the demands on all actors in the event, especially the leaders, become more non-linear and can result in great emotional influences on sensemaking and subsequent decision making. This dissertation concludes that leadership in this context can almost exclusively be focused on life-saving, and instinctual or emotional responses. Further the differences between leadership in dangerous military and non-military domains are examined. The implication of these findings for practitioners and future researchers is also discussed.