Off-campus UNL users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your NU ID and password. When you are done browsing please remember to return to this page and log out.

Non-UNL users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

When the Crisis is Personal: Understanding the Lived Experiences of High-Level Leaders Amid Personal Crisis

Kathleen T Brandert, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


A CEO’s child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. An executive director learns they have stage 2 thyroid cancer. The chancellor’s divorce takes an ugly turn. The department chair’s partner undergoes a second round of treatment for ovarian cancer. The director of programs experiences a stillbirth. Crisis and profound loss are a part of the human experience, and therefore, are part of the workplace experience.This dissertation explores the intersection of personal crisis and senior leadership in an organizational context. What is it like to live at the crossroads of leading a team, division, or organization while simultaneously experiencing personal trauma (e.g., the death of a loved one, significant illness of a loved one, diagnosis of a life-changing personal illness, the dissolution of a relationship)? Existing literature describes aspects of the return-to-work process following a personal crisis and extensively looks at work-to-family and family-to-work conflict. However, this literature heavily emphasizes the psychological elements of the experience as opposed to leadership-focused elements. Additionally, it considers employees at all levels of the organization, virtually ignoring specific impacts on high-level leaders in the organization. High-level leaders have a degree of responsibility, accountability, and burden to the organization that varies from employees at other levels. It is critical to understand the experiences of high-level leaders from a leadership and organizational context to understand their ultimate needs and to avoid organizational suffering and turnover.This exploratory research highlights two qualitative studies on leaders' lived experiences at the intersection of personal crisis and leadership, and provides a literature review of what we know about this phenomenon. The final discussion focuses on the results and identifies areas of future research.

Subject Area

Business administration

Recommended Citation

Brandert, Kathleen T, "When the Crisis is Personal: Understanding the Lived Experiences of High-Level Leaders Amid Personal Crisis" (2023). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI30312866.