This exploratory, narrative study investigated two research questions. One, how do executive leaders at community colleges describe how their cognitive schema and sensemaking approach informed their understanding of a crisis that their organization faced. Two, how do executive leaders at community colleges describe what leadership traits, behaviors, and competencies they used during the crisis management process. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 12 retired community college presidents and chancellors from across the United States. Data were coded using in vivo coding for the first cycle and focused coding for the second. The study found that community college presidents drew heavily from past work experience in order to make sense of crisis situations. Those who rose through the ranks through specific channels such as public relations, human, resources, business, and counseling drew heavily from their professional backgrounds to understand how to respond to crises. Participants also differentiated crises levels based on how immediate the response needed to be, how much attention the situation was receiving from the public, and whether the event threatened organization’s mission. Findings indicate that during times of normalcy, participants favored interpersonal or transformational leadership approaches. However, once the term challenge or crisis was introduced, they began to emphasize more dominant behaviors such as taking a front and center role. The communication competency also increased in importance when reflecting on leadership during times of crisis. Based on the findings, this study introduces the rudimentary beginnings of crises salience theory, a construct to explain how a leader’s behaviors change based on their perceptions about the urgency of a crisis. This construct could either evolve into an extension of terror management theory or grow with research into a similar framework that explains organizational leadership behaviors during crisis events.