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Failure of crisis leadership in a global pandemic: some reflections on COVID-19 and future recommendations

Justin Okoli (Derby Business School, University of Derby, Derby, UK)
Nuno Paulino Arroteia (Leicester Castle Business School, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK)
Adekunle I. Ogunsade (Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, Leicester Castle Business School, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK)

Leadership in Health Services

ISSN: 1751-1879

Article publication date: 22 September 2022

Issue publication date: 21 April 2023




Being a novel public health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic presented world leaders with difficult options and some serious dilemmas that must somehow be negotiated. Whilst these leaders had limited knowledge about the coronavirus and how the pandemic would potentially evolve, they were still expected to make high-staked judgements amidst a range of uncertainties. The purpose of this paper is to explore the response strategies used by various world leaders from the perspective of crisis leadership within the public health domain.


Secondary data was collected from research papers, policy reports and credible media outlets to examine the construct of crisis leadership within the context of the global pandemic.


The paper identified three cognitive antecedents to the COVID-19 crisis leadership failures, which helped to explain why certain policy decisions were successful and why others were less so. On this basis, a clear dichotomy was drawn between highly rated leaders and their less successful counterparts in relation to the management and governance of the coronavirus pandemic.


The uniqueness of this paper lies in its psycho-political approach, which offered insights into the cognitive undertones that underpin the three leadership failures that emerged from the distinct approaches used by world leaders to prepare for, respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The practical recommendations proposed in this paper are hoped to aid better decision-making for leaders faced with the task of managing future public health crises.



Okoli, J., Arroteia, N.P. and Ogunsade, A.I. (2023), "Failure of crisis leadership in a global pandemic: some reflections on COVID-19 and future recommendations", Leadership in Health Services, Vol. 36 No. 2, pp. 186-199.



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