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As the demands on leaders increase, so do their levels of stress. So what is it that creates the most stress for today’s leaders?

We studied whether particular issues or people were causing the most stress for leaders at work. Here’s what we found:

The #1 cause of stress, according to leaders surveyed, is trying to do more with less in a shorter amount of time. Not having adequate resources and time were found to be the most stressful leadership demands. Other factors contributing to stress included developing people, managing limited resources, the physical demands of work, motivating employees, and decision-making.

The interpersonal demands of leadership, such as establishing and maintaining relationships, are great. Not surprisingly, the negative aspects of interpersonal relationships, such as dealing with difficult personalities, political maneuvering and managing conflict, contribute to increased levels of stress for leaders.

Any negative relationship is stressful, but are there any working relationships that are, by nature, more difficult than others? CCL research showed that there is no single group to blame. Leaders experience stress equally among their bosses, peers, direct reports and customers. But the reasons for stress often do depend on the source:

For example: Leaders may feel that they aren’t supported or respected by a supervisor with a bossy personality. Bosses with leadership and management styles that are different from yours can be sources of significant stress.

Other sources of stress include:

  • “Competitive Peers.” Stress from peers looks very different from stress caused by a boss. Competition and lack of teamwork are the primary sources of stress from a leader’s peers.
  • “Poor-performing direct reports.” Direct reports with performance problems are a primary source of stress for leaders, even when direct reports are not otherwise the main stressors.
  • “Unreasonable Customers.” Normally customers are not a source of stress – until they have unreasonable demands and expectations.

As CCL researcher Michael Campbell says, being aware of the sources of personal stress is an important step in managing and mitigating the negative effects of stress. So try to figure out what’s stressing you out, so you can take steps to make things better.

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