Triggered by the collapse of the US mortgage market, the global financial crisis (GFC) of 2007–08 hit most of the Western world hard and fast, presenting governments and citizens with a set of stark, undeniable and immediate realities. This article examines the attempts of three prime ministers “Gordon Brown in the UK, Brian Cowen in Ireland and Kevin Rudd in Australia to meet the key leadership challenge set up by the GFC: to publicly assess, explain and account for the GFC and the accompanying economic turbulence and uncertainty as financial markets went from boom to bust. By focussing on meaning making we examine how the leaders responded to the public expectation to explain: How bad is the situation? How did it occur? Who or what is to be held responsible? What needs to be done to cope with it? Using both qualitative and quantitative methods we compare the rhetorical impacts of these leaders.