Purpose: Emergence of COVID-19 has posed a big challenge around the world demanding responsible behavior at all levels for effective mitigation of its adverse effects on humanity. Despite deadly nature of the pandemic, people yet tend to violate the lockdowns, social distancing, and related protective measures. This study presents a critical view and identifies underlying causes of the deviant behavior of masses. It highlights specific areas where responsible leadership can make a difference in fighting the pandemic from organizational perspective. Design/methodology/approach: Qualitative data collected through in depth interviews from three different countries - Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia. The data was collected thrice with time lags and integrated view has been presented in this study. Findings: The study finds that perceptual dissonance, cost of protective behavior, reactive attraction and perceived triviality of protective measures are some of the main causes of deviant behavior. Research limitations/implications: Although the data have been collected from three countries, yet smaller sample size remains a limitation of the study. Similarly, the longitudinal data was collected once in each wave of COVID-19 and its increased frequency could make findings more reliable. Practical implications: The findings provide an “analysis template” for responsible leaders to analyze any crisis situation in future. In the light of findings, leaders can locate causes of deviant behavior and the way they can influence behavior of employees in a crisis. Social implications: The study is highly valuable in analysis of social dimension of COVID-19 crisis at organizational level. It clearly highlights the significance of social and financial support by responsible leaders for influencing the protective intentions of employees in an emergency situation. Originality/value: The organizational perspective and the responsibilities of leaders for fighting the pandemic has not been adequately explored. This study has investigated the likely causes of deviant behavior of employees in adoption of protective measures. It also highlights the areas where responsible leaders can make a difference in inducing protective behaviors.