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Why Bad Leadership Is Hazardous To Your Health

New studies look at life-threatening leadership, recession-era CEO turnover, and why founder CEOs are less likely to get fired when the books are cooked. Here's a round-up of interesting and provocative recent findings on leadership:

1. Workplace Leadership and Heart Disease

Having a bad boss can be unpleasant, yes, but a study published late last year by six Scandanavian researchers found something more troubling: Bad leadership might be harmful to your health. Tracking the heart health of 3,122 Swedish male employees over nearly a decade (the incidence of heart disease among women was too infrequent to measure), the researchers found that those whose gave their bosses low leadership marks had a higher risk of heart disease.

The employees rated their leaders on "concrete managerial behaviors, such such as the manager's consideration for the individual employee, provision of clarity in goals and role expectations, supplying information and feedback, ability to carry out changes at work successfully, and promotion of employee participation and control." The researchers' conclusion? Interventions to prevent heart disease among employees should focus on improving managers' leadership skills.

2. CEO Turnover Declines in 2008

Though GM's newly departed Richard Wagoner might be setting a new trend for 2009, last year CEOs in the U.S. and Europe "demonstrated remarkable recession resistance," according to an annual study from management consulting firm Booz & Company.

The survey of 2,500 global companies found a 0.5% decrease in CEO turnover in 2008 as compared with 2007, while in Europe CEO stability increased by 1.9%. Not huge changes, to be sure, but the researchers conclude that "the nature of the recession is leading boards of directors of Western companies to stick with the leaders they know." The report did find, however, that CEOs in the financial sector and energy industry were on shakier ground: The rate of "forced turnover" (i.e. booting a CEO because of bad performance) was 8.8% last year in the financial sector, "more than double the historical rate of 3.4%."

3. CFOs, Watch Your Back

Speaking of CEO turnover, University of Miami professor Andrew Leone looked at newly public companies who experienced accounting irregularities, and compared the outcomes for founder CEOs versus outcomes for non-founder CEOs. In findings set to be published later this year in The Accounting Review, Leone found a dramatic difference. Founder CEOs left the company in 29% of the cases, while non-founders were left or were forced out at a rate of 49%.

Meanwhile, CFOs at companies run by founders were more likely to fired, implying that the financial officers may become "scapegoats" for the accounting problems. Leone, who opens his paper with reference to Steve Jobs being absolved by his board of any wrongdoing in a case of backdated executive stock options, concludes by saying that "board-initiative investigations" into accounting irregularities -- which is how the "vast majority" of companies handle such cases, he writes -- "lack objectivity when the CEO in question is the founder of the firm."

By Andrea Useem  |  May 18, 2009; 6:29 AM ET  | Category:  Research Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Chief Happiness Officer and Other New Leadership Jobs | Next: Five Leadership How-Tos for Recession Survival


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Good article. I had a micromanaging ***** as a boss at my last company, and do NOT regret the day I left that place. It was a private college, and she would introduce any student as her "new best friend", thereby losing any respect the student may have had for her beforehand. I now make DOUBLE what I did when I started that place 10 years ago, and my current employer actually recognizes the fact that I have a working brain!

Posted by: Alex511 | May 19, 2009 6:47 PM

Just a short follow up to "CFOs watch your back." There are actually two authors involved with this study, my co-author is Michelle Liu. In addition, to put the last quote in context, we wrote "evidence suggests that these board-initiated investigations may lack objectivity when the CEO in question is also the founder of the firm." That is, we do not know for sure that they boards lack objectivity but they may.

Andrew Leone

Posted by: aleone | May 18, 2009 3:51 PM

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