Crises in American business have increased in frequency and intensity. Major financial crises are rampant today and will likely continue. Well over 40 major business crises have occurred over the past two decades. Business has become more complex due to rapid advances in technology, globalization, workforce demographics, and the environment. The nature of leadership has been forced to accommodate this increasing turmoil by changing from authoritarian, directive leadership to collaboration, teamwork and participative management. Surprisingly, little attention has been paid to the leadership practices that have been most effective in dealing with business crises. This two-phase, sequential mixed methods study obtained quantitative data concerning noncrisis and crisis leadership, and then compared those results with actual crisis events to develop an understanding of crisis leadership practices. Three leadership theories were selected from a field of seven after evaluating them for their applicability to crisis situations: transformational, servant, and covenant theories. Characteristics that describe each theory were defined and compiled as a method for further study. The result of the study verified that crisis leadership is different than non-crisis leadership, and identified the characteristics that change or do not change in a crisis. Key characteristics of successful crisis leadership were identified. Finally, the integration of the data revealed that the key characteristics were most closely related to servant leadership and those were among the characteristics that changed the least during a crisis. The overall conclusion is: while it is recognized that crisis leadership is different from non-crisis leadership, servant leadership, which requires only minimal adjustment, is most successful. The study deepens the understanding of leadership practices that are successful in crises.
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