No matter how elevated your position in the corporate hierarchy, you can’t make the day longer than 24 hours. But there are plenty of leaders who try to tamper with Father Time (and perhaps, Mother Nature) by creating more work hours by giving up sleep. Rarely does leadership training address the importance of the well-rested leader, but studies of sleep deprivation have, for decades, linked inadequate sleep with poor performance, and even with effects similar to those of alcohol consumption.
Being sleep deprived is similar to being inebriated.
Seventeen to 19 hours of sleeplessness impairs performance at least as much as a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%. Pull an all-nighter, and your performance is affected as much as if you had a BAC of 0.1%. Most states charge people with DUI when their BAC is 0.08% or greater. The bottom line is that if you burn the candle at both ends, you could be undermining everything you learned in your leadership training.
How Sleep Deprivation Affects Leadership Performance
A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology by Christopher Barnes and colleagues measured effects of sleep deprivation on leadership effectiveness. Put simply, poor sleep increases the chances of a person being a jerk the next day, and that’s bad for team engagement and inspiration. The mechanism of this phenomenon is simple: leaders who are able to demonstrate positive emotions to their teams inspire more positive emotions in teammates. This prompts team members to think of their leader as more charismatic and inspiring. Sleep deprivation makes it harder to control emotions and more likely that a leader will lash out or otherwise demonstrate negative emotions. This harms team cohesiveness and engagement.
Are You Contributing to Sleep Deprivation Among Teammates?
Often the leaders who expect the most from themselves expect the most from their teams, which is only fair to a certain extent. But if you demand enough from your team members to affect their sleep quality, you could be undermining your leadership in another way. Barnes and his team also studied the effect of sleep deprived team members on perception of leadership charisma. They found that team members who were sleep deprived were less likely to think of their leader as charismatic, even if the leader himself or herself had plenty of sleep and was demonstrating positive emotions.
If your teammates are sleep-deprived, they think of you as less charismatic.
Therefore, in addition to ensuring you get sufficient sleep, you have to guard against disrupting teammates’ sleep habits. Obviously, you can’t control what your people do when they get home. If they engage in a major Netflix marathon that eats into their sleeping hours, that’s not on you. But there are leaders who, for example, expect team members to answer emails and phone calls and check text messages even late at night. If you do this, you could be sabotaging your own leadership effectiveness.
Top Sports Performers Are Expected to Rest and Recuperate
The importance of rest and recovery to top sports performers, opera singers, and stage actors is well-known. Nobody expects a top athlete to compete at the top of his or her game repeatedly without adequate time to rest, hydrate, and eat properly. Yet leadership training rarely talks about the folly of expecting top business leaders to bring their A-game day after day, month after month, regardless of whether he or she is getting sufficient rest.
We have all put in a day (or more) of work despite not sleeping well the night before. That’s part of being human. But some industries (like investment banking) treat sleep deprivation as a badge of honor when it shouldn’t be. You probably spend a lot of time on your smartphone or tablet, yet you know that if you don’t allow it to charge, it can’t help you. The same is true of your teammates and of yourself: an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night is necessary for most people. An adequately rested and recharged leader and team are more engaged and less impaired. In other words, they’re more likely to accomplish amazing things.
Teams of Distinction is committed to turning good teams into outstanding teams, through proven coaching and leadership training. We encourage you to learn more about how to increase your team’s performance and contact us if you have any questions.