Be a Better Leader at Work: Get More Sleep at Home

Be a Better Leader at Work: Get More Sleep at Home

A great leader always sees the big picture. Everything is tied to everything, whether it’s how an individual employee’s role fits into the rest of the company, or how product integration can change over time — the best ones see it all. There’s one area that can sometimes blindside even the most hawkish CEO: the role of sleep and leadership.

There’s a cliche that in corporate culture 80 hour work weeks should be the norm, that there’s some benefit to having employees come in worked to the bone, barely able to open their eyes during a meeting. Thankfully this stereotype is changing, thanks in no small part to a group of scientists who have studied the relationship between a good night’s sleep and what they’ve dubbed, “the executive skills.”

The Neocortex is the Key to Leadership

These “executive skills” all stem from an area of the brain called the neocortex, a small, but important piece of real estate that houses our decision making, emotional response, and other interpersonal skills. When we sleep, we recharge that area, allowing it to rest and replenish hormones that are essential to those higher cognitive functions. Recently, a Harvard Business Review Study showed that these skills are not just an option, but are actually vital to how a business is run. The study, which took the sleep habits of over 120 CEOs was able to link their performance with how much sleep they got. CEOs who slept less than six hours a night were more often linked with poor performance and bad decision making. While there can be some variation on this, over time that means that their businesses performed worse as well.

“Such sleep deficiencies can undermine important forms of leadership behavior and eventually hurt financial performance,” said Els Van Der Helm, sleep scientist and the studies’ co-author.

Proof of Performance

The study is of interest, because it’s the first time that scientists have been able to pinpoint behavior and tie it to sleep (or lack thereof). Take some of the findings and suppositions that Van Der Helm writes about, and think about it’s base effect on the bottom line. These are directly related to how the neocortex reacts with sleep loss. They write:

“[In] a sleep-deprived state, your brain is more likely to misinterpret these cues and overreact to emotional events, and you tend to express your feelings in a more negative manner and tone of voice,” the study says. “Recent studies have shown that people who have not had enough sleep are less likely to fully trust someone else. Another experiment has demonstrated that employees feel less engaged with their work when their leaders have had a bad night of sleep.

So if you’re feeling like your performance at work is less than ideal, if you feel like you aren’t relating to your employees the way you used to, maybe the answer is more sleep time on a new mattress. It seems like such a simple answer to a complex problem, but simplicity is often what we crave, whether in business or in life. Take time, rest on it, and let the answers come to you. It’s amazing what a little sleep can do.

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