Krauter, J., “Context and conditions matter: Stress and strain in the exercise of leadership power” (2020). Leadership, 16(1), 107–128.
Background & Theory:
Past research studies have shown that a significant number of leaders suffer from stress and strain that can affect the application of their power. Lower levels of strain have been correlated with utilizing power in positive ways like empowering others, whereas higher levels of strain have correlated to using power in negative ways through dominance and punishment. This study examines the stressor and strain factors that are most frequently experienced by leaders.
Research was conducted to answer the following questions:
- What stressors and strain factors do leaders perceive in power-related situations?
- Which strain factors have a significant impact on leaders’ power-related behavior?
The sample size of this study was 43 German leaders and human resource managers from private sector businesses. Data were collected via an online questionnaire that asked for demographic information, date of leadership experiences, hierarchical level, areas of responsibility, and the manager-to-employee ratio. The questionnaire also asked two open-ended questions: “What is the biggest problem in leadership for you right now?” and “What are you currently most concerned about regarding this problem? What are you worrying about?” The data were analyzed via quantitative content analysis.
The results indicate that the participants ranked the category of “leader role” as the most frequent stressor and strain, which includes role ambiguities, different leadership roles, over-taxation by the demands of their leadership role, and role conflicts. The second most frequent stressor and strain category was “leader-member relations” which encompasses the balance of one’s own and other’s expectations, social norms, and values, the general expectations of others, and the changes in expectations between different generations of employees.
Statistically, the participants gave the frequency of the indicated stressors the following ranking: leader role (34.9%), leader-member relations (23.3%), the organization (20.9%), the workplace (18.6%) and environment (2.3%). In terms of strain, participants gave the frequency of the articulated strain factors the following ranking: leader role (34.9%), the leader-member relations (32.6%), the organization (18.6%), the workplace (7.0%) and environment (2.3%). Based on this data, we can conclude that stressors and strain that leaders primarily perceive in their roles have to do with the leader role and leader-member relations.
The findings of this study also show that contextual stressor categories such as “organization” and “workplace” can lead to social aspects of strain within the “leader-member relations” and “leader role” categories. This suggests that power-related behavior caused by strain is not only a psychological problem regarding the leader role or a social issue of leader-member relations, but is also influenced by the context and conditions in which leaders find themselves in, including the expectations that surround the leader role.
What We Can Learn:
Looking over this research, we can take away this key insight:
- Leaders perceive the leader role and leader-member relations as the most frequent stressor and strain factors in power-related situations. The presence of high stressor and strain factors can push a leader to use their power in negative ways.
For Consultants: Familiarizing yourself with the stressor and strain factors that push leaders to negatively utilize their power can be helpful in making these leaders aware of what is causing them strain.
For Everyone: At times, leaders can face insurmountable stress and strain at work. Recognizing these stressors and strain factors when they are happening can help these leaders take action steps to deal with the stress they experience and make more positive decisions with their power.