What It Takes to Lead in Life-Threatening Situations

[We’re pleased to welcome author Deirdre Dixon of the University of Tampa, Florida. Dixon recently published an article in the Journal of Leadership and Organization Studies entitled “Making Sense When It Matters Most: An Exploratory Study of Leadership In Extremis,” co-authored by Michael Weeks, Richard Boland, and Sheri Perelli. Below, Dixon explains the inspiration for conducting this research:]

I first became interested in leadership in dangerous environments as an Army officer serving in Iraq. I knew I wanted to help find out how we co3007805773_38716560d9_z.jpguld train our leaders in these difficult environments to become better.  I set out to discover how leaders make sense in these in extremis environments, and how did they give sense to their teams. This journey led me to interview 30 soldiers who had recently returned from conflict in the Middle East. As the US begins our 16th year with conflict in the Middle East, more and more leaders are faced with deploying overseas.  As our society changes and crises seem to be happening on US soil more frequently, more than just soldiers will have to understand leadership in crises environments.  This empirical study helps begin the dialogue.

The full abstract to the article is below:

Leading in in extremis situations, when lives are in peril, remains one of the least addressed areas of leadership research. Little is known about how leaders make sense in these dangerous situations and communicate these contexts to others. Because most of the literature on in extremis is theoretical, we sought empirical evidence of how sensemaking proceeds in practice. A qualitative study was conducted based on interviews with 30 Army leaders who had recently led teams in combat. Our findings suggest that during these life-threatening situations, sensemaking and sensegiving are actually occurring simultaneously, the type of training leaders receive is critical, and a sense of duty can influence a person’s role as a leader. Our findings have implications for both theory and practice since crisis leadership is now a coveted executive quality for leadership competency.

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Image attributed to the U.S. Army (CC)

One thought on “What It Takes to Lead in Life-Threatening Situations

  1. I look forward to seeing this research and, possibly, a text book of the same. I work next to a special ops joint base with many of my students in harm”s way on a continual basis., I feel many of the young leaders I teach would benefit from a textbook that would specifically relate to what they do on a daily basis. Many of the mllitary school house do not fully address this subject so the need for this data, to me, would be crucial. As a veteran of many operations from Grenada to Afaganistan, I can tell you that any training on of this type would have saved lives and resources. Good luck! I pray thst I will see a text book soon!

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