Leadership Skills

Cognitive resource theory of leadership

What is Cognitive resource theory of leadership?

Cognitive resource theory of leadership is a theory that explains how the leader’s mental and physical resources affect their leadership behavior and performance. The theory proposes that leaders have a limited amount of cognitive resources, such as attention, memory, and decision-making abilities, that are needed to perform various leadership tasks and activities.

The Cognitive Resource theory of leadership was first proposed by James R. Barker and colleagues in the 1990s. They developed the theory in order to explain how leader’s cognitive abilities (such as attention, memory, and decision-making) affect their leadership behavior and performance, and how these cognitive abilities may be impacted by stress and fatigue.

According to this theory, leaders with higher cognitive resources are better able to handle complex tasks, think creatively and innovatively, and make better decisions. They also have a greater capacity to adapt to changing conditions and to handle stress.

The theory also states that cognitive resources can be depleted by stress and fatigue, which can lead to decreased performance, errors, and poor decision-making. The theory suggests that high-stress, high-demand situation may affect leaders differently depending on their cognitive resources, and that leaders with low cognitive resources may have more difficulty than those with high cognitive resources in dealing with such situations.


Cognitive resource theory of leadership has several implications for leadership development and practice

  1. Developing cognitive resources: To improve leadership performance, leaders can engage in activities that enhance cognitive resources, such as engaging in physical exercise, getting enough sleep, and managing stress.
  2. Recognize the impact of stress and fatigue: Leaders should be aware of the impact of stress and fatigue on their cognitive resources and take steps to manage these factors to prevent decreased performance and poor decision-making.
  3. Support during high-stress situation: Organizations should provide support and resources to leaders during high-stress, high-demand situations, such as providing additional training or temporary staff to help manage workload.
  4. Training and Development: Leaders should invest in developing cognitive resources by participating in training and development programs, as well as self-directed learning and mentoring.
  5. Self-awareness: Leaders should be self-aware of their own cognitive resources and how they are being affected by stress, fatigue, and other factors.

Cognitive Resource theory, gives insight into how leaders’ cognitive abilities impact their ability to lead, and how organizations can support leaders in high-stress and high-demand situations. While it is a relatively new theory, it has been found that it has important implications for leadership and organizations.


Marty Hoffman

Marty Hoffman, MBA, PhD Management Consultant for Fortune 500 and Corporate Strategist 📍 San Francisco, CA More »

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