Crisis leadership from the perspective of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Purpose – The purpose of the paper is to identify traits and behaviors of organization leaders that were deemed helpful by employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Design/methodology/approach – This is an exploratory qualitative study that utilized online surveys. Data from 155 participants were subjected to content analysis. Findings – Several interrelated traits and behaviors of effective crisis leadership were identified. These were clustered into three superordinate themes – attending to the person, taking charge and showing the way forward and sustaining the spirit. Research limitations/implications – Findings from this paper can be furthered by conducting quantitative studies to validate themes and/or test a conceptual model of effective crisis leadership. Gathering data from other populations at different points in time during the COVID-19 pandemic may also be useful. Practical implications – A review of leadership development programs and organization norms and values is recommended in order to ensure that they are consistent with crisis leadership competencies. Originality/value – This paper helps address the gap on follower-centered perspectives about organizational leadership responses to crises and highlights the importance of care and compassion in leading employees during difficult times.