Journal of Educational Leadership in Action


The COVID-19 pandemic has upended life and work for people around the globe. This upheaval has created new challenges for those serving in or studying at higher education. College administrators have been forced to adapt, and many have used wisdom gained from past crises as proxies for the current crisis. After many months in a pandemic, however, many leaders are still searching for effective frameworks and mental models to guide their efforts. In this article, we offer the concept of derailment as a proxy for leaders in challenging times. We examined interview data from a recent in-depth study of 25 derailed leaders (Strietzel, 2020) and explored similarities between experiencing derailment and leading through a pandemic. Using the lessons learned from derailed administrators, we provide a three-layered approach to navigate the current crisis. Findings and implications encourage higher education leaders to focus on their purpose, growth, and environment.


Jeff Strietzel, PhD, serves as a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the Leadership minor within the School of Education at Baylor University. He has taught courses in leadership theory and skills development, student success, and the culture and organization of higher education. His administrative roles have spanned the areas of student activities, residential life, academic support, assessment, graduate student recruitment, and enrollment services. Dr. Strietzel has published on student success and student affairs, and his current research centers on how senior-level administrators experience and navigate job loss and career derailment.

Ryan W. Erck, PhD, serves as the Program Director for the Impact Living-Learning Center and is an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Educational Leadership at Baylor University. His research interests include college student interactions, student success, leadership and organizational culture, and the impact of environments on student learning.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.