Management in the Mirror: Stress and Emotional Dysfunction in Lives at the Top

Sandi Mann (University of Central Lancashire, UK)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 1 February 2000




Mann, S. (2000), "Management in the Mirror: Stress and Emotional Dysfunction in Lives at the Top", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 21 No. 1, pp. 62-64.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This rather weighty text promises much – both a unique insight into the special traits that are needed to become “successful” and, as the title suggests, an analysis of the stress and emotional problems that those at the top might experience. Unfortunately, the text seems unable to deliver on all its promises, as so often is the case with titles offering such lofty ambitions. However, if the reader can put this limitation aside, they will be rewarded with an interesting book based on real case studies that does offer some insight into the lives of top corporate leaders.

The book is divided into two parts; the first is aimed at examining what it takes to become a successful corporate leader, while the second focuses on how such leaders see themselves. With five of the six chapters that make up the first part, being devoted to different aspects of the “path to success”, the reader could be forgiven for expecting a prescriptive “how‐to” guide – certainly, Chapter 3, with its title of “Strategies for getting to the top” would seem unlikely to offer anything else. But, once more I must warn potential readers that the titles are misleading and none of these chapters really prescribes the “path to success” that seems so tantalisingly on offer. Instead, the reader must really search for strategies and tips, hidden among the, sometimes rambling, prose. However, some areas are explored in well‐merited full and fascinating detail; for instance, the myth that truly successful people have extraordinary intelligence is dissected with a fine toothcomb – even to the extent of describing IQ back‐estimation techniques to assign intelligence quotients to geniuses born since 1450 (some readers may be encouraged to learn that excessive intelligence may actually be handicap to success, according to Schell).

The title of Schell’s text promises a discussion on stress and by Chapter 2. “Work and personal stressors”, this theme is already being explored. Schell, who based her book on research of nearly 400 corporate leaders (including US presidents such as Nixon), relies heavily on her own model of stress, around which the experiences of the success stories presented are built. Her model, the C‐O‐P‐E model for stress reduction is a four‐dimensional approach of the four key types of self and organisational analyses that she says are essential for understanding and developing stress coping potential. The tour keys are the control (C) that people perceive they have over personal and organizational stressors, the outward signs (O) of distress presenting personally and organizationally, the personality predispositions (P) and conditional behavioural patterns contributing to people’s overall stress levels and the energy (E) expenditures and returns of people as a matter of stress buffering or stress disability. Schell then uses her four‐point model to assess the stress‐coping abilities of leaders such as the aforementioned Richard Nixon before focusing on empirical studies conducted in the 1980s and 1990s to find out just how stressed present‐day corporate leaders are.

Part II of’ Schell’s book opens by examining the issues affecting women managers in terms of their stress levels and influences styles, with a case study of the present‐day struggles of women in the automobile industry in North America, illustrating well how slow women’s progress has been in terms of gender equality in the upper ranks of the workplace. This leads on to a discussion of a personality disposition that affects both men and women at the top – the Type A trait. While this trait has been much researched and its predominance among leaders well documented, Schell delves further here into both Type B and Type C traits and the occurrence of such disease‐prone or “self‐healing” personalities.

In summary, Schell’s thesis, while somewhat disjointed and over‐ambitious, presents some interesting findings and insights for those willing to wade through the material to find it. If there is any conclusion at all, it is probably that there are many ways to make it to the top, which may be reassuring, but does make it more difficult to take away any really useful lessons from the book.

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