Objectively Measuring Stress: How Understanding Stress Helps Us Improve Leadership

Mac Masukume

Student thesis: Master thesis


Stress is at an all-time high in our society, and given its dangerous personal, occupational and societal affects, this thesis sets out to establish a way of objectively measuring stress in real-life situations—and furthermore, examine how stress affects the leadership process. Several studies have found heart rate variability (HRV) measures, to be good explanatory proxies to assess the function of an individual’s autonomic nervous system (ANS). The sympathetic- and parasympathetic activities generated by the ANS can be assessed by analyzing the changes in HRV that manifests, based on different physiological and psychological states, such as stress. To investigate this, HRV data was collected from a participant over a three-week period along with self-reported data about his perceived stress level. The findings generated by this study, found that objectively measuring and assessing stress in real-life situations is difficult—because the many variables and stimuli that affect HRV, cannot be controlled for. Therefore, objectively stating that a reduction in HRV is caused by stress, is not possible without additional information. This thesis also found a clear connection between stress and leadership, given that stress affects an individual’s ability to dedicate significant cognitive resources to decision-making and problem-solving; two fundamental aspects of good leadership

EducationsMSc in Strategy, Organization and Leadership, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages72