Inderscience Publishers

Structure versus freedom of action: leadership during the rescue operation following the 2004 tsunami

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The purpose of this study was to develop a theoretical understanding of leadership during a complex rescue operation following a major disaster in a foreign country. The analysis followed a grounded theory approach. Seventeen informants from three Swedish authorities were interviewed on leadership in the emergency handling of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia. A theoretical conceptualisation was developed which includes three superior categories: antecedent conditions, situational constraints and core aspects of leadership. Within the last-mentioned superior category a core variable was identified: a balance between the need for structure and the need for freedom. Leaders who strive to create structure at the expense of freedom of action are less inclined to delegate and more likely to wear themselves out. Conversely, those who strive to create great freedom of action bypass many links in the organisational chain, thus 'short-circuiting' the organisation as a whole.

Keywords: leadership, collaboration, 2004 tsunami, structure, freedom of action, decision making, stress, disaster response, emergency management, rescue operations, grounded theory, emergency response, disaster management

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