HONG KONG, CHINA - Media
OutReach - 24 October 2018 - While
being a leader has many benefits, the role also comes with tremendous pressure.
What are the pros and cons of being a leader? How can organisations support
their leaders to cope with stress?
Being a leader has many benefits -- there is more
control in the job, more decision-making power, and more autonomy at work.
However, it also comes with higher expectations and thus, more stress. A good
leader is expected not to just perform and deliver, but also to inspire others
to perform well in good and bad times.
Is being a leader beneficial or detrimental to one's
There are plenty of studies on how leadership
behaviors affect followers' performance and well-being. But, very little
attention has been dedicated to the well-being of the leaders themselves.
A research study entitled "Is being a
leader a mixed blessing? A dual-pathway model linking leadership role occupancy
to well-being" by Wendong Li,
Assistant Professor of Department of Management at The Chinese University of
Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School, has addressed this often-neglected question
through an innovative approach. The study was conducted in collaboration with
Prof. John M. Schaubroeck from Michigan State University, Prof. Jia Lin Xie
from the University of Toronto, and Prof. Anita Keller from the University of
"A deeper understanding of this question may
help organisations support their leaders in their efforts to cope with stress,"
says Prof. Li. "It may also equip employees to anticipate the long-term
costs of taking supervisory responsibilities and thus make more informed career
choices," he says.
Previous academic researches on the well-being of
leaders have mainly presented two contrasting views.
One perspective suggests that being a leader is
detrimental to one's well-being as supervisory responsibilities are often
associated with long working hours and heavy workloads. This view, though very
intuitive, has rarely been directly examined in previous research.
The other perspective argues that leadership role
may be beneficial to one's well-being because leaders have more autonomy than
non-leaders, and therefore less stress at work. Empirical examination of this
perspective has also been very limited.
Rather than limiting to view the issue from an
either-or position, Prof. Li's study has taken both views and findings into
"Our study serves as the first step toward
reconciling the conflicting views and mixed findings on this relationship,"
says Prof. Li, adding that their findings have provided a starting point of
evidence accumulation and a potential template for future research and theory
and Job Control
In order to reconcile the two contrasting views
regarding the impact of leadership roles on the job holders' wellbeing, Prof Li
and the team developed a dual-pathway model to test how leadership role is
related to both job demands (which refer to the psycho-social demands at
workplace), and job control (which relates to the level of discretion in how
one chooses to perform one's core job).
"Leadership roles may have highly stressful
demands while simultaneously conferring high levels of control. Such distinct
pathways connecting leadership role occupancy to wellbeing may be mutually
countervailing," Prof. Li explains.
"Thus, determining the impact of leadership
roles on one's wellbeing may ultimately be a question that concerns the
relative strengths of the detrimental and salutary paths."
According to Prof. Li, serving in a leadership
position may enhance one's wellbeing through the increase in job control, but
the position may have a negative effect on his or her wellbeing due to high job
In other words, both job control and job demands
have beneficial and also detrimental effects on a leader's wellbeing. The
offsetting signs, revealed by the dual-pathway model, highlight the complexity
of the overall relationship between leadership role and personal wellbeing.
The researchers tested their hypotheses with four
independent samples from different cultural contexts -- Switzerland, USA, China,
The Swiss cohort included a sample of 1,006
participants; the American cohort included a sample of 1,409 participants over
a 10-year time-lagged design; the Chinese cohort of 369 participants worked in
a large state-owned manufacturing company in China and the last cohort included
1,027 Japanese adults from Tokyo, Japan.
In the study, the researchers examined two types of
psychological well-being: hedonic (i.e., when we feel happy from pleasure
attainment and pain avoidance) and eudaimonic (i.e., when we feel happy from
experiencing purpose, challenges and growth in life). To examine their physical
well-being, chronic diseases, blood pressure, and cortisol (often called the 'stress
hormone'), were measured.
Overall, the team found that leaders reported both
high job demands and high job control. They also reported steeper trajectories
over time in job demands and job control than non-leaders.
In addition, higher job demands were associated
with lower wellbeing whereas higher job control was associated with greater
wellbeing. Such findings are consistent with the researchers' predictions and
However, leaders who perceived higher job demands
also self-reported more chronic diseases and higher blood pressure.
In addition, the study discovered that the effect
of leadership role on eudaimonic well-being through job control was larger in
the Japan sample than in the U.S. sample.
This may be due to cultural difference, according
to Prof. Li. "There is stronger endorsement of power distance as a value
in Japan than in the United States. Thus, gaining control at work may have more
pronounced effect for the Japanese than the Americans," Prof. Li explains.
"Future research may further examine how cultural
values may shape the influence of leadership role occupancy on one's well‐being," he says.
"Our research provides an important first step
in assessing how distinct work characteristics may explain the relationship
between being a leader and a non-leader's wellbeing," Prof. Li says.
"In terms of practical implications, organisations
should seek to ensure that their investment in leaders is not compromised by
low levels of leaders' well‐being that may
discourage nascent leaders from continuing in their careers as leaders,"
Selecting and grooming employees for leadership
roles is a major investment for most organisations. Therefore, to make sure the
efforts do not go to waste, Prof. Li also suggests organisations should ensure
that their leaders are not over-burdened and have ample opportunities to rest
and recover. On the other hand, leaders themselves may consider delegating more
to decrease their job demands.
"Identifying and implementing means to limit
leaders' job demands and foster their recovery are critical to obtaining a
sizable return on these investments," Prof. Li says.
Wen‐Dong Li, John M. Schaubroeck, Jia Lin
Xie, Anita C. Keller, "Is being a leader a mixed blessing? A dual‐pathway model
linking leadership role occupancy to well‐being," (7
March 2018). Journal of Organizational
article was first published in the China Business Knowledge (CBK) website by
CUHK Business School: https://bit.ly/2S7tvAe.
About CUHK Business School
Business School comprises two schools -- Accountancy and Hotel and Tourism Management -- and
four departments -- Decision Sciences and Managerial Economics, Finance, Management and Marketing.
Established in Hong Kong in 1963, it is the first business school to offer BBA,
MBA and Executive MBA programmes in the region. Today, the School offers 8 undergraduate programmes and
graduate programmes including MBA, EMBA, Master, MSc, MPhil
the Financial Times Global
2018, CUHK MBA
is ranked 43rd. In FT's
ranking, CUHK EMBA is
ranked 29th in the world. CUHK Business School has the largest
number of business alumni (35,000+)
among universities/business schools in Hong Kong -- many of whom are key
business leaders. The School currently has about 4,400 undergraduate and
postgraduate students and Professor Kalok Chan is the Dean of CUHK Business
More information is available at www.bschool.cuhk.edu.hk
or by connecting with CUHK Business School
on Facebook: www.facebook.com/cuhkbschool
and LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/school/3923680/.