Educational Leadership Sustainability: Maintaining Wellness, Coping with Stress, and Preventing Burnout

Educational Leadership Sustainability: Maintaining Wellness, Coping with Stress, and Preventing Burnout

Valerie A. Storey (University of Central Florida, USA) and Neffisatu J. C. Dambo (Southern Illinois University, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch014


Leaders have a high propensity to experience stress due to the design of their career, duties, and accountability measures. Extended exposure to stress without the appropriate resources involves strains that can potentially become burdensome and begin to weigh on an individual. This chapter explores the relationship between wellness and burnout through the application of social stress theory to critical stress factors, as well as suggesting coping strategies for enhancing wellness and maintaining one's life balance.
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Encountering stressors (i.e., pressure, conflict, change, frustration) are an inevitable part of life, and most people respond using unhealthy coping mechanisms. In fact, approximately one-half of the U.S. population disclosed that stress has led to their inability to sleep (McGonigal, 2015), thus catalyzing and perpetuating a movement toward ill psychological and physiological health. Explicitly, successful leaders are highly prone to experience a multitude of stressors related to their multidimensional career demands. Commonly dominating their life outside of work and excluding a work-life balance for ensuring sustained health and wellness. In hindsight, it has been proven that individuals who undergo high levels of stress for a long period of time and who are without supports and appropriate buffers (e. g., techniques for restructuring and converting stress as a benefit; motivational challenge, skill builder) often experience a decline in physical health and psychological wellness. Ultimately, affecting their work performance, daily functioning, interpersonal skill, and problem-solving abilities, which can inadvertently lead to burnout, career attrition, and an institution's educational failure.

In this chapter we discuss the following:

  • 1.

    The responsibilities and stressors of leaders with specific reference to educational leaders,

  • 2.

    The impact of stress,

  • 3.

    The influence and need of professional support, and

  • 4.

    The need for shared responsibility in supporting the health and retention of successful leaders.


Organizational Leadership

Impact of Stress

Healthy leaders ignite healthy environments that bolster positive cultures for organizational personnel, leading to the fulfillment of organizational goals, its mission, and positive performance outcomes (Kelehear, 2004). Leaders need to be emotionally stable in order to be effective (Garcia et al., 2014). A leader’s overwhelming stress levels compounded by unhealthy coping approaches are known to negatively influence an organization's morale and culture; stimulating a stress and tension amongst those in the environment (Kelehear, 2004). Essentially, unhealthy stress “affects everything in our lives, from our eating habits to the most basic lifestyle behaviors and to everyone with whom we interact” (Seaward, 2006, p. xvii). Furthermore, unmanaged stress has negative consequences on an individual’s physical and mental health and is often signified by exhaustion and burnout (Boyland, 2011).

Organizational leaders encounter several stressors (i.e., personal relationships, work life balance, job responsibilities) that impact their well-being (Palmer et al., 2003). According to Boswell, Olson-Buchanan, and LePine (2004), there are two forms of stress: good stress and bad stress. Good stress (eustress) is perceived as challenges that can motivate action, work performance, and job commitment when having the proper growth opportunities and rewards (Palmer et al., 2003; Sogunro, 2012). However, bad stress is perceived as hindering circumstances without the proper resources, supports, or benefits (i.e., pay, respect, and worth), which interferes with work performance, as well as leads to employee dissatisfaction and attrition (Boyland, 2011; Sogunro, 2012). An individual who is experiencing acute or chronic stress leading to burnout and illness may show signs indicative of exhaustion, cynicism, short temperament, hostility, inability to concentrate, reduced efficacy, indecisiveness, disengagement, absenteeism, increased substance abuse, and other dangerous behaviors (Gorgievski & Hobfoll, 2008; Guglielmi et al., 2012; Palmer et al., 2003; Sogunro, 2012; Wells, 2013). Therefore, it is important to encourage and support leaders’ health through intentional coping mechanisms that replenish their work ethic and decrease the likelihood of burnout (Baloglu & Balgalmis, 2014; Sogunro, 2012). In fact, a research study conducted by Boswell et al (2004) with university staff (N = 461) found a positive relationship between hindrance-related stress and work withdrawal behaviors (i.e., intent to quit, job searching, absenteeism) (Gorgievski & Hobfoll, 2008). The study provided information for researchers to consider how the infrastructure and design of the job can contribute to the process in which individuals perceive and respond to stress, naturally affecting the employees’ job commitment, performance, well-being, and retention.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sustainable: Sustainable leadership goes beyond temporary gains in achievement scores to create lasting, meaningful improvements in learning.

Stress: Stress is the body's way of responding to any kind of demand. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences ultimately causing the body to react by releasing chemicals into the blood.

Professional Learning: Professional learning has often been seen as something that occurs outside normal work practices, something additional, usually provided by someone from outside the workplace. Professional learning takes place at several levels: the individual, the workplace, and the organization.

Burnout: Burnout is the end state of a long-term process of resource loss that gradually develops over time depleting energetic resources.

Conservation of Resources (COR) Theory: COR theory is a motivational theory that rests firstly on the basic tenet that individuals strive to obtain, retain, foster, and protect resources. According to COR theory, stress occurs under three conditions: 1) When individuals’ key resources are threatened with loss, 2) When resources are lost, or 3) When individuals fail to gain resources following significant resource investment. Burnout is one such stress outcome and typically follows from a process of slow bleed out of resources without counterbalancing resource gain or replenishment.

Educational Leaders: Educational leaders are ultimately responsible for how well students are doing and the extent to which achievement is improving.

Wellness: Wellness comprises of various factors that interact in a complex, integrated, and synergistic fashion and the dynamic interaction of the dimensions causes the sum of the dimensions to be greater than the whole. Each dimension is integral to the whole and no one dimension operates independently.

Coping Strategies: Coping strategies refer to the specific efforts, both behavioral and psychological, that people employ to master, tolerate, reduce, or minimize stressful events.

Organizational Leadership: The management staff that typically provides inspiration, objectives, operational oversight, and other administrative services to an organization. Effective organizational leadership can help prioritize objectives for subordinates and can provide guidance toward achieving the overall corporate vision.

Preparation Program: High-quality leadership preparation is the essential first step in building a strong educational leadership pipeline.

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