Enhance Your Leadership: The One Thing You Can Do Tonight to Guarantee Better Performance Tomorrow

One thing frequently not discussed is sleep and how important it is to be able to work effectively. The author points out that getting regular sleep is important if you want to be successful as a leader and highlights some of the problems a lack of rest can cause.

Most of us are familiar with the term “Beauty Sleep.”  We’ve probably experienced first hand waking up with the baggy eyes and sallow skin that follows even one night of poor sleep.  Most of us have also heard how sleep deprivation undermines our health by raising blood pressure and cortisol levels, burning out adrenal glands, and slowing reaction time.

But one thing we don’t frequently talk about is how sleep – or more correctly, the lack of it – impacts our ability to lead and perform at work.  Here is the cold, hard truth:  It is impossible to maintain an effective Leadership Mindset without adequate sleep.

Let’s take a look at how lack of sleep affects performance.  Admittedly the specific effects of sleep deprivation will manifest differently in each individual.  The ones I list below are the ones that show up most immediately in my performance.  How many of these five things sound familiar to you?

1. I Get Stupid

When I haven’t gotten enough sleep, I get dumber than a box of rocks.

I lose the ability to find connections between different things, and I have difficulty following a train of thought from beginning to end.  A reduction in cognitive ability is a well-known result of even one night of poor sleep.  As you can imagine, “stupid” kills any kind of effective problem solving ability.  And it’s no secret that “problem-solving” is pretty high on the to-do list of any leader.

2. I Get Demanding

Lack of sleep impairs the ability to empathize with those around you. Since your brain is struggling to make it through the day, it’s difficult to see a situation or experience from another person’s perspective.  I insist that things be “my way” and lose the opportunity to experience an alternative view.

Imagine that you’ve just arrived at work, irritable and snippy because you haven’t slept well the night before, and a direct report comes into your office to tell you she wants to try something different on her project.  Instead of listening and learning from her ideas, you respond with something that sounds more like, “I said do it this way!” What impact is your response likely to have on her and the project?

3. I Get Volatile

When I haven’t slept properly the night before, everything begins to feel like a crisis. Situations that would be perfectly manageable on a normal day suddenly feel overwhelming.

This limited capacity for “emotional processing” is another known consequence of sleep deprivation.  Anger, sadness, depression and excitement are some of the strong emotions that can arise unexpectedly as the body attempts to balance itself after inadequate sleep.  This sort of sleep-deprived volatility does not lead to you being your most productive and collaborative self.  Not to mention the fact that your colleagues feel like they have to tiptoe around you.

4. What was the Fourth One? 

Oh yes – lack of sleep causes forgetfulness. There’s a great deal of research that proves sleep deprivation impacts not only the short-term but also the long-term memory. 

Whether it’s something as simple as forgetting where you placed your coffee mug when you left your office to make copies, walking into your boss’ office and completely forgetting what you came in to tell her, or forgetting the key point in your big proposal, being forgetful is not an efficient way to operate at work. Or anywhere else for that matter.

5.  I Get Blind to My Own Limitations 

In my sleep-deprived state, I lose the ability to notice the impact that lack of sleep is having on my performance.  It isn’t until the morning after, once I’ve had a good night’s sleep, that I look back and see the impact my sleep deprivation had on my colleagues and my projects.  I then spend two more days trying to undo the damage I have caused.

In your role as a leader, whether you are the supervisor in the office or whether you just want to put your best foot forward when you come to work each day, sleep must be at the top of your priority list.

How many of the symptoms I listed can you identify in yourself?  (Note:  If you say “none,” you may want to read number 5 again.) What would it take for you to make sleep a serious priority? Leave a comment below to join the conversation.

About the Author

Martha Wilson is a retired CIA Operations Officer, leadership instructor, transformational coach and the founder of Greatness In Government, a leadership and personal development firm that specializes in re-energizing mid-career government employees. Organizations that are struggling with complaints about bad leaders, discrimination, bullying and other symptoms of employee dissatisfaction hire her when they are ready for a fresh approach to leadership training. She also provides private coaching to high-potential government employees who have decided to assume responsibility for their own personal and professional development.