higher education leadership, university presidents, crisis leadership, covid-19


The COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique shared challenge for all HEIs leaders around the world. Besides balancing institutional tasks and ensuring the health and safety of the campus community, university presidents were challenged with promoting equity and showing empathy in their leadership. Framed by Henry Mintzberg’s (1973) theory on managerial roles, this study uses in-depth interviews of 14 university presidents in eight countries, to understand how they enacted different roles in leading their institutions through a global crisis. Despite differences among presidential leadership styles in diverse contexts, findings from the study show that leadership roles shifted from securing their institution’s financial and academic stability to securing the well-being of the people within and outside their organization in the face of crisis.