By Natasha Persaud

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It might be lonely at the top, but it’s not so stressful. New research suggests climbing the ladder can have its rewards. Two studies reported in PNAS link leadership with lower levels of stress, despite a presumed increase in job demands. One key driver appears to be having a sense of control.

In the first study, researchers compared military and governmental leaders in charge of subordinates to non-supervisors. By two independent measures, one psychological the other physiological, the leaders reported less stress: They reported less anxiety and produced lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

In a second study, researchers compared leaders at various levels. Again, leaders in more powerful positions scored better than middle managers on measures of mental and physical stress.

The researchers suggest that moving up the ranks boosts a person’s sense of control. That is, when you’re in charge, you’re better able to control the factors that could cause stress. Leaders, for example, can delegate responsibilities to others.

By the same token, it’s possible that less stressed individuals simply receive more promotions. Whatever the reason, rising through the ranks to become the “bossy” boss has its perks!


Sherman, G. et al. “Leadership is associated with lower levels of stress.” PNAS Early Edition. Sept 24, 2012.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 17 Oct 2012

Last Modified: 05 Mar 2015