Surviving a zombie apocalypse

Leadership configurations in extreme contexts.

Most of us leaders encounter extreme contexts a few times during our active career, how we and the team acts in these conditions is however crucial and can give long lasting effects on the results and the collaboration.

If you lead work in the rescue service, emergency ward, in combat, nature disasters, major accidents or in difficult expeditions this is a recurring situation. In research on firefighters Baron and Scott (2010) concludes that “groups within dangerous contexts must continually negotiate the ambiguous nature of their surroundings in an attempt to understand what is going on, what it means and what the group should do next.” You can say that this is very similar to good leadership in the execution of projects but more stressed.

In the paper Surviving a zombie apocalypse- Leadership configurations in extreme contexts David A Buchanan Cranfield University, UK and Markus Hällgren Umeå University, Sweden have studied the classic zombie movie Day of the dead where the actors face really extreme contexts.

I really like the idea and it is also so that the US strategic command (2011) uses a training exercise, Counter zombie dominance to stimulate creative thinking in response to unexpected threats and develop disaster preparedness, for their leadership development.

In the Day of the dead the world has been overrun by zombies, 12 persons are based in an underground army storage facility. How would you lead in this situation?
We can in the paper follow how the leadership emerge, shift and combine focused leadership, ambiguous leadership, competing leadership, network formation, leadership vacuum and self-organizing teams.

Day of the dead illustrates according to David and Markus how an unbalanced focused leadership style, which is autocratic, directive and diverse is dysfunctional and can put lives at risk. Paradoxically they continue, in an extreme context, there may be a need for focused, directive leadership. However, to maintain group cohesion, a range of distributed, rotating, shared network and self-organizing configurations may have to emerge. It is also important to recognize that the combination of leadership behaviours may come from more than one individual.

To be avoided in extreme environment is a leadership vacuum and situations where leadership is ambiguous or contested.

The whole interesting paper is available here:

In the paper you can also find references to other papers in the field.

Mats Ragnarsson, Wenell Management

Share this page