Sustainable Leaders

Topics: Leadership, Stress, Management Pages: 41 (10740 words) Published: February 23, 2013

Richard E. Boyatzis, PhD., Melvin L. Smith, PhD., and Nancy Blaize, MD.1 Weatherhead School of Management
Case Western Reserve University
10900 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44106-7235
TEL: 216-368-2055
FAX: 216-368-6228

November 20, 2004
NOT TO BE QUOTED or REPRODUCED without the expressed written permission of the authors or until it appears in print.


Richard Boyatzis and Melvin Smith are professors in the Department of Organizational Behavior, Weatherhead School of Management, and Nancy Tresser is an MBA graduate of Weatherhead School of Management. Communications should be sent to the first author. The authors wish to thank .


By integrating and applying recent findings in affective neuroscience and biology with well documented research on stress research to leadership, the discussion of leadership development becomes more holistic. Leadership requires the exercise of influence or power. As a result, leaders experience a form of stress called “power stress.” Sustained, effective leadership will be adversely affected by the effects of chronic power stress because of damage to neural processes and the leader’s body and mood.

To sustain leadership effectiveness, leaders should emphasize coaching as a key part of their role and behavioral habits. They may better sustain themselves by balancing the effects of chronic stress with the ameliorative effects of coaching the development of others. Coaching with compassion has psycho-physiological effects that restore the body’s natural healing and growth processes, as well as shifting one’s mood and perception. This is a major benefit of coaching, in addition to the development of others as future leaders. A few other potential benefits (in addition to a potential risk) of experiencing compassion from coaching others is offered, as well as acknowledging other means of experiencing compassion outside of the coaching relationship. Implications for future research on leadership and leadership development is discussed, as well as implications for leadership development and education.


One of the purposes of management education is to develop people to be leaders of organizations and institutions for the future. The manner in which we approach the development of leaders is largely dependent on our concept of leadership. A variety of leadership theories have been offered over the past several decades (see Yukl and Van Fleet, 1990). “Great person” theories of leadership seek to understand what an effective leader does (Bennis & Nanus, 1985) or what dispositional characteristics enable a person to be a leader. These characteristics range from cognitive ability (i.e., general g) to traits (like extroversion), motives such as McClelland’s (1975) need for power or charisma (House, 1977; Conger & Kanungo, 1987) or transformational leadership style (Bass, 1985, 1990). A contingency theory of leadership seeks to understand what types of leaders are needed for organizational effectiveness in various settings (Bass 1990; Boyatzis, 1982; Fiedler, 1967; Hersey and Blanchard, 1969; Kotter, 1988; Yukl, 1998). More recent approaches to understanding leadership (e.g., vertical dyad linkage or leader-member exchange) seek to understand relational aspects including the leader’s ability to interact with others (Dansereau, Graen, & Haga, 1975; Kelly, 1992; Kram and Cherniss, 2001). These theories are the basis for our efforts to develop leaders. However, few if any theories of leadership have considered physiological aspects.

By integrating the latest findings in affective neuroscience with well-documented and recently discovered findings in biology and stress research, we will expand the discussion of leadership and leadership development beyond previously considered factors. Utilizing a more holistic approach to leadership development, we propose that...
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