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HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy, Decision Science, and Management

Abstract

As leaders ascend to more powerful positions in their groups, they face ever-increasing demands. As a result, there is a common perception that leaders have higher stress levels than nonleaders. However, if leaders also experience a heightened sense of control—a psychological factor known to have powerful stress-buffering effects—leadership should be associated with reduced stress levels. Using unique samples of real leaders, including military officers and government officials, we found that, compared with nonleaders, leaders had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lower reports of anxiety (study 1). In study 2, leaders holding more powerful positions exhibited lower cortisol levels and less anxiety than leaders holding less powerful positions, a relationship explained significantly by their greater sense of control. Altogether, these findings reveal a clear relationship between leadership and stress, with leadership level being inversely related to stress.

Citation

Sherman, Gary D., Jooa J. Lee, Amy J. C. Cuddy, Jonathan Renshon, Christopher Oveis, James J. Gross, and Jennifer S. Lernera,. "Leadership is Associated with Lower Levels of Stress." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109.44 (October 2012): 17903-17907.
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