The Stress of Leadership

stressThe Stress of Leadership

For leaders, such safety [from being in a group of positive, like-minded people] may be crucial for authentic learning to occur. Often leaders feel unsafe, as if they’re under a microscope, their every action scrutinized by those around them – and so they never take the risk of exploring new habits. Knowing that others are watching with a critical eye provokes them to judge their progress too soon, curtail experimentation, and decrease risk taking.
In those ways and others, leadership is intrinsically stressful. Early studies on people who have a high drive for power – the need to have an impact – showed that their very desire for that power had the same arousing effect on them as if they were under actual biological stress. When a person’s stress increases – or his power motives are aroused – the body reacts by secreting more adrenaline and noradrenalin, the body’s stress hormones. That leads to higher blood pressure, getting the individual ready for action. At the same time, the body secretes the stress hormone cortisol, which is even longer lasting than adrenaline — and which interferes with new learning.
When people feel stresses, of course, they no longer feel safe and are further inhibited in practicing new ways of acting. Instead, they become defensive, relying on their most familiar habits. There’s another problem that the stress introduces: When stress is high and sustained, the brain reacts with sustained cortisol secretion, which actually hampers learning by killing off brain cells in the hippocampus that are essential for new learning.
Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence. Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee. Boston; Harvard Business School Press. 2002.

About Bob McCarthy

Originally from the Northeast, I now call Southwest Florida home. I have been a professional copywriter and editor since 1979, both freelance and in house. I have had article published in regional, national and international magazines. Plus, a video for which I wrote the script won an industry award as Best Training Video.
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