A Vice President I worked for years ago, reflecting on her rise to the C Suite, stated that she thought it was more stressful to be a middle manager than an executive. The difference, she said, is the senior leader has more autonomy over things than do managers further down in the hierarchy.
We know that a perceived lack of control over your situation–over your life, for that matter–is a major stressor. So my VP’s opinion has always made sense to me.
The noted expert on neuroscience and leadership, David Rock, has a new article out in the HBR Blog Network that expands on this phenomenon. He cites studies that reinforce the idea of the less-stressed executive. They don’t just have greater control (autonomy). They also experience:
- Higher status
- Greater certainty (from confidence-inducing good pay and benefits)
- A greater sense of the fairness of arrangements in the organization (reinforcing the appropriateness of their relative position in it)
So what? Well, the senior leader should remember what it was like on the climb to the top. Mid-level managers, to say nothing about individual contributors, have less status and are more vulnerable to forces beyond their control…and there are more such forces beyond their control than for the executive.
It’s difficult for the C-suiter to see life through the lens of the staff who report to them. How quickly we forget how vulnerable employees can feel.