Once a month, researchers from CBS write a column in Børsen, where they give readers a current and research-based perspective on the challenges managers face.
In this column, two researchers from CBS, Assistant Professor Pernille Steen Pedersen and PhD fellow Jonathan Harmat, together with two students, Klara Helene Rubæk Klinggaard and Nicklas Lilleskov Falk, focus on what the commitment to vulnerability means for the CEO. The column is based on the two students' qualitative interviews with a number of top executives about handling work-related loads.
Emotions are on the rise in the Danish management landscape. Jakob Ellemann-Jensen's (Deputy Prime Minister of Denmark) recent announcement about his stress course and the interest it triggered clearly show that emotions, including those of top managers, have become a public matter.
At the same time, the need for "psychological safety" has gained ground in Danish workplaces. According to the originator of the term, Harvard professor Amy Edmondson, it's about creating a culture where employees feel confident that they can be themselves and won't be belittled or humiliated if they raise ideas, questions, concerns, or point out mistakes.
With the concept come expectations that the individual employee and manager must dare to show and give more of themselves in their relations with others – but does this also apply to top managers, who are traditionally praised for showing decisiveness and control?
What attention should top executives pay to psychological safety?
And what does the requirement of vulnerability mean for CEOs handling emotions in work contexts?
At CBS, we have investigated what the commitment to emotional involvement means for CEOs by interviewing 7 top executives about their handling of work-related loads.
Top managers play a crucial role when it comes to creating a foundation for psychological safety in the organisation. But the CEO's mandate to create growth and be decisive is challenged by increased demands to show care in working relationships, our research shows.
This is because psychological safety sets the stage for a management understanding that emphasises personal and interpersonal relationships. At the forefront are leadership ideals such as sensitivity, equality, empathy, care and vulnerability – qualities that are often socially attributed to the feminine. This contrasts with the qualities traditionally associated with leadership, such as control, the ability to suppress emotions, and drive, which are culturally considered masculine.