Your Leadership is Killing Me!

Why do people react so strongly when they don’t have a voice in decision-making? Research suggests there is a rational biological basis for this reaction.  It comes down to this: feeling that we have little or no control is detrimental to our health.

The famous Whitehall studies in the U.K. established that there was an inverse relationship between level of hierarchy, power, control, status and cardiorespiratory disease/mortality rates in members of the British Civil Service.  More recently, a group of researchers found that participants in a Harvard Business School program for leaders had lower stress (as measured by cortisol levels and self-reported anxiety levels) versus people in the local community who didn’t manage others.  The researchers also found that leaders with more powerful positions had even lower cortisol and self-reported anxiety.  Here is a link to the published research and to a New York Times article about it entitled “It’s Easy Being King.” 

Wise leaders create Connection Cultures that diminish the negative effects of stress.  They do this by giving people a sense of control through keeping people informed on matters that are important to them, seeking people’s opinions and ideas on those matters and, when possible, considering the people’s input before making decisions then communicating the rationale for their decisions.  This isn’t always possible.  Some decisions are not that important.  Others require a quick response and time for input simply isn’t practical.  For decisions that directly affect people, decisions people are especially interested in, and decisions that many people will be called upon to implement, it is especially wise to give people a voice. Doing so will give them a greater sense of control and increase the likelihood that they will implement those decisions with greater effort.  It will also give them a better life, and quite possibly, more of it.

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