Tackling the taboo of executive stress

Published: 13 November 2015 at 13:36

Dr Caroline Rook

New edition of Coach and Couch focuses on psychology of making better leaders.

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A second edition of the successful Coach and Couch (Palgrave Macmillan), co-edited by Dr Caroline Rook of Anglia Ruskin University, is published this month, with a new chapter covering the growing issue of stress amongst corporate leaders.

Over £1billion is spent on executive coaching every year worldwide. And rather than a response to specific events, it has now become an integral part of leadership development in many organisations.

However, the authors have identified executive stress as a particular challenge because of the widespread reluctance to discuss it.

The book includes a number of examples, such as Ton Buechner, CEO of Akzo Nobel, and Antonio Horta-Osorio, CEO of Lloyds Banking Group. In November 2011, Horta-Osorio suddenly collapsed in a board meeting and then took sick leave due to fatigue.

Horta-Osorio had worked 60 hours a week, seven days a week, without a holiday for over 40 weeks. He did not return to his job for several months and the market value of the bank plummeted by close to £1billion.

Just a year later a similar scenario repeated itself at Akzo Nobel. Buechner had been taken on to turn the company around and his arrival saw share prices rise by 21%. However, six months in, sick leave was announced due to fatigue. As with Horta-Osorio, there was wide media coverage about what this meant for the future performance of the business.

Dr Rook, a Senior Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin’s Lord Ashcroft International Business School, said:

“For some it seems normal to be under constant pressure and to only sleep four hours a night and to work during weekends, which has the effect of normalising stress.
“Furthermore, senior executives might want to seem strong in front of staff and shareholders, not admitting to signs of weaknesses or reduced performance.
“Due to this self-deception and limited personal disclosure, it is difficult for coaches and executives to determine stress levels. Besides exploring how extraordinary leaders and thriving organisations are created, our book sets out an approach that will help to evaluate executive stress, despite the obvious taboo that exists.”

Coach and Couch is aimed at business leaders, executive coaches and training professionals, and academics and students specialising in organisational behaviour, and the first edition received glowing reviews.

Edward Dolman, CEO of Christie’s, said:

“This book explores the clinical perspective and applies it to the business context. I have found that this approach, which focuses on self-reflection and the observation of others, is particularly helpful in confronting the challenges of leadership.”