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Culture clash, and the pros and cons of being a leader

Plenty of studies have been conducted on how leadership behaviours affect followers’ performance and well-being, but very little attention has been dedicated to the well-being of the leaders themselves.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 9 December 2018, 10:00AM

There are plenty of studies on how leadership behaviours affect followers’ performance and well-being, but, very little attention has been dedicated to the well-being of the leaders themselves. Image: CUHK

There are plenty of studies on how leadership behaviours affect followers’ performance and well-being, but, very little attention has been dedicated to the well-being of the leaders themselves. Image: CUHK

A research study titled ‘Is being a leader a mixed blessing? A dual-pathway model linking leadership role occupancy to well-being’ by Wendong Li, Assistant Professor of Department of Management at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School, has addressed this often-neglected question through an innovative approach.

The study was conducted in collaboration with Prof John M. Schaubroeck from Michigan State University, Prof Jia Lin Xie from the University of Toronto, and Prof Anita Keller from the University of Groningen.

Contrasting Views

Previous academic researches on the well-being of leaders have mainly presented two contrasting views. One perspective suggests that being a leader is detrimental to one’s well-being as supervisory responsibilities are often associated with long working hours and heavy workloads.

The other perspective argues that leadership role may be beneficial to one’s well-being because leaders have more autonomy than non-leaders, and therefore less stress at work.

To reconcile the two contrasting views, Prof Li and the team developed a dual-pathway model to test how leadership role is related to both job demands (which refer to the psycho-social demands at workplace), and job control (which relates to the level of discretion in how one chooses to perform one’s core job).

The Study

The researchers tested their hypotheses with four independent samples from different cultural contexts – Switzerland, the US, China and Japan.

The Swiss cohort included a sample of 1,006 participants; the American cohort included a sample of 1,409 participants over a 10-year time-lagged design; the Chinese cohort of 369 participants worked in a large state-owned manufacturing company in China and the last cohort included 1,027 Japanese adults from Tokyo, Japan.

In the study, the researchers examined two types of psychological well-being: hedonic (i.e., feeling happy from pleasure attainment and pain avoidance) and eudaimonic (i.e., feeling happy from experiencing purpose, challenges and growth in life). To examine their physical well-being, chronic diseases, blood pressure, and cortisol (often called the 'stress hormone'), were measured.

Key Findings

Overall, the team found that leaders reported both high job demands and high job control. They also reported steeper trajectories over time in job demands and job control than non-leaders.


In addition, higher job demands were associated with lower well-being whereas higher job control was associated with greater well-being. Such findings are consistent with the researchers’ predictions and previous studies.

However, leaders who perceived higher job demands also self-reported more chronic diseases and higher blood pressure.

Cultural Differences

The study also discovered that the effect of leadership role on eudaimonic well-being through job control was larger in the Japan sample than in the US sample.

This may be due to cultural difference, according to Prof Li. “There is stronger endorsement of power distance as a value in Japan than in the United States. Thus, gaining control at work may have more pronounced effect for the Japanese than the Americans,” Prof Li explains.


“In terms of practical implications, organisations should seek to ensure that their investment in leaders is not compromised by low levels of leaders’ well‐being that may discourage nascent leaders from continuing in their careers as leaders,” Prof Li says.

Selecting and grooming employees for leadership roles is a major investment for most organisations. Therefore, to make sure the efforts do not go to waste, Prof Li also suggests organisations should ensure that their leaders are not over-burdened and have ample opportunities to rest and recover. On the other hand, leaders themselves may consider delegating more to decrease their job demands.

“Identifying and implementing means to limit leaders’ job demands and foster their recovery are critical to obtaining a sizeable return on these investments,” Prof Li says.

– By Mabel Sieh and Jaymee Ng

This article was first published in the China Business Knowledge (CBK) website by CUHK Business School:



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