Psychology

Low-Stress Leaders?

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Science  23 Nov 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6110, pp. 1010
DOI: 10.1126/science.338.6110.1010-a
CREDIT: THE WHITE HOUSE HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION/WHITE HOUSE COLLECTION

Conventional wisdom suggests that being a leader is stressful. But is that actually true? Sherman et al. addressed this question by measuring the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in the saliva of participants in an executive education program, which included corporate, government, and industry leaders. They also measured the anxiety levels of participants using surveys. Leaders had lower amounts of cortisol and reported experiencing less anxiety than people not in leadership positions, and individuals further up the chain had less cortisol and anxiety than individuals in lower positions. The authors hypothesized that a greater sense of control by leaders may explain this difference and a second study in which leaders provided information about how many subordinates they had, how many directly reported to them, and how much decision-making autonomy and authority they had relative to the subordinates. Leaders who had more of a sense of control had lower cortisol levels and less anxiety. Sherman et al. were careful to note that their study was purely correlational and could not demonstrate which came first—the leadership or the lower levels of markers for stress.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 109, 17903 (2012).

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