Despite longstanding interest in this issue, the nature of the leadership–stress link among humans remains unresolved, in part because of the difficulty of obtaining a suitable sample of real leaders.
As a result of our access to these individuals, we were able to recruit samples that included middle- to high-level government officials and military officers.
Most pertinent to the current investigation is research, based on the classic demand–control model (22), showing that the adverse health effects of job strain are buffered by having a sense of control in one’s job (23, 24).
Based on this previous research, we hypothesized that increases in leadership, by heightening one’s sense of control, may buffer against stress.
However, if leaders also experience a heightened sense of control—a psychological factor known to have powerful stress-buffering effects—leadership should be associated with reduced stress levels.
Using unique samples of real leaders, including military officers and government officials, we found that, compared with nonleaders, leaders had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lower reports of anxiety (study 1).