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Stress in Leadership is Low, Study Finds your Boss is Less Stressed than You

Update Date: Sep 25, 2012 07:03 AM EDT
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With great power, comes great responsibility- we all have heard it. But with great responsibility also comes great anxiety? Or is it that the mere feeling of having power cuts down our stress?

According to a new study, people who hold higher or leadership positions are less stressed than those who do not hold powerful positions.  

Although the study does not establish a cause and effect relationship between leadership and lesser stress, it proposes a possibility that perhaps it is the lower anxiety in people that gives them more tolerance to hold a responsible position.  

According to Gary Sherman, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and the study's lead author, the research "does point to the importance of gaining leadership and a sense of control that would buffer against stress."

In the study that may seem counterintuitive, scientists have considered what popular culture suggests- that leaders often are stressed-out workaholics, sometimes with a classic type-A personality, Medical Xpress reported.

Also, there is a common notion that stress leads to gray hair. This phenomenon is also quite evident in some of the most powerful men that the world has seen.

For the study that is largest of its kind the researchers quizzed 148 leaders and 65 non-leaders about their stress levels. Researchers also tested the levels of cortisol in the participants, a hormone linked to anxiety.

The leaders, who were at Harvard University to attend a leadership program were mostly males, wealthy and included managers in fields such as finance, real estate and administrative services.

Other common factors found among the leaders were that they consumed more caffeine, smoked less and were early risers (6 a.m. on average). Non-leaders were found to wake up late (7:30 a.m. average) and found to sleep more than leaders.

Leaders reported being less stressed than the non-leaders and the cortisol levels in the leaders were also found to be 27 percent lower than in the non-leaders, Sherman said.

"Among leaders," the study authors said, "lower stress levels go hand in hand with greater rank and power."

Previous studies have suggested that a sense of control or even a lack of it significantly affects stress levels in people.  

"Lack of control and predictability are key to stress," Richard Elliot Wener, professor of environmental psychology at Polytechnic Institute of New York University said. "If you're the boss, you control important factors."

Researchers further hope to study further and see how moving up and down the career ladder effects stress levels in people, Sherman said.

The study appeared online Sept. 24 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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