Taking Care: Exemplary Leadership During Adversity a Regenerative System

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Organization Development & Change (D.O.D.C.)


Organization Development

First Advisor

Deborah O'Neil (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Jacob Shila (Other)

Third Advisor

David Jamieson (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Kristina LaVenia (Committee Member)


This grounded theory research explores how individuals nominated by followers and peers as demonstrating exemplary leadership during adversity, specifically the COVID19 pandemic, experienced their leadership as a process. Of particular interest was understanding enabling and inhibiting factors and supports that would be helpful in future adversity contexts. The ability to adapt, grow and thrive in difficult circumstances has been discussed in prior literature including Post Traumatic Growth, Crucible Moments, and Growth Mindset. However, there is a paucity of research that looks at leaders specifically and what combinations of factors are enabling and inhibiting. Additionally, there is a lack of research regarding how leadership manifests as a process. A total of 17 interviews were conducted across industries ranging from hospitals to manufacturing to media to professional services. The narratives from these interviews were analyzed to develop a theoretical framework of exemplary leadership in adversity which shows the importance of three elements coming together to enable this experience in the form of an interdependent and regenerative system. These elements are Pre-adversity Preparedness, Disruptive Change Process and Post Adversity Growth, Learning and Adaption. An emergent model is presented as a Regenerative System of leadership defined by the concept of “Taking Care” of both business concerns and people concerns. The system existed as both restorative and regenerative in that it produced outcomes that exceeded conditions prior to the crisis and was described as transformative. Enabling subthemes of the system included previous experiences of the leader, pre-existing trusting relationships, adaptive human-centric and business-focused leader behaviors, leader-endorsed experimentation, defining moments of service, purpose, and change, leader supports, and personal and organizational growth, learning, and adaptation. These sub-themes demonstrated interdependence and reciprocity within the system. The more compassion and care were distributed throughout the system, the more the system thrived. When the system experienced moments of thriving, collective confidence and a collective sense of service and purpose permeated within the network. This inspired additional acts of compassion, creativity, and commitment which were additive creating conditions that yielded strong business results as well as ongoing growth, learning, and adaptation.