CAMBRIDGE and BOSTON, Mass.–A unique laboratory study shows that leaders with more leadership responsibility experience lower stress levels (as measured by stress hormone — i.e., cortisol — levels) than peers who have less responsibility.
The results of the study appear in this week's early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The research team, led by Jennifer Lerner, Professor of Public Policy and Management at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), included Harvard Business School (HBS) Associate Professor Amy Cuddy, HKS Postdoctoral Fellow Gary Sherman, Professors James Gross of Stanford University and Christopher Oveis of the University of California at San Diego, and Harvard doctoral students Julia Jooa Lee and Jonathan Renshon.
The researchers engaged senior leaders from the public and private sectors who volunteered to serve as participants in a wide-ranging and pioneering investigation on leadership and stress. The leaders included military officers, government officials, nonprofit administrators, and business executives from the United States and around the world.
"There is a strong theme in the literature on leadership that the higher people rise in leadership positions, the more stress they have to manage," Professor Lerner observes. "But when we studied people who actually hold positions of leadership, we found that they tended to have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol compared to non-leaders."
The authors found that a parallel outcome measure--self-reported anxiety--showed the same pattern, thus indicating the robustness of the phenomenon