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Sleep’s Connection to Effective Leadership

Catharine Willett April 15, 2016 0 comments 0

[su_dropcap style=”default” size=”3″ class=””]W[/su_dropcap]e’ve heard many questionable comments from Republican candidate Donald Trump, but in one of his most recent comments, he claims that his profound economic success and fame are, in part, a result of sleeping for only four hours a night. He claims his persistent work ethic puts him ahead of the competition. Unfortunately for Mr. Trump, a recent study from the Harvard Business Review indicates that insufficient sleep can have detrimental effects on leadership behavior and financial performance.

Leadership actually relies on a good night’s rest. Lack of sleep is proven to contribute to slower brain functioning, particularly in the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for several aspects of daily life: reasoning, organization, planning, and problem-solving. These are vital skills for effective leadership. However, too little sleep hinders the prefrontal cortex’s ability to function, causing even basic visual and motor skills to weaken.

And, this is just the beginning. As the prefrontal cortex continues to slow and create a tired mind, other vital behaviors begin to slow with it. Research indicates, in particular, that these effects are harmful to successful leadership. Lack of sleep inhibits four specific behaviors that are prominent in 89% of all effective leaders:

  • Goal Oriented. To focus on the outcome of a final product, it requires just that: focus. However, lack of sleep impairs the ability to selectively focus our attention on one distinct thing. Being awake for a consistent 17 to 19 hours is the equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of 0.05%, the legal drinking limit in several countries. So, for the average boss who wakes up at 6 a.m. and works until 11 p.m., her behavior resembles more of an intoxicated individual than a functioning superior.
  • Problem-Solving. It’s understood that the prefrontal cortex plays a significant role in this skill. Problem-solving is a necessary trait for any leader; thinking of new ideas and solutions is a primary part of the job. However, sleep deprivation correlates to a person’s inability to distil a clear vision and develop new innovations. Research has shown that those who obtain a full night’s rest, around eight hours, are twice as likely to find new ways to complete a task than those who obtain inadequate sleep. Creative thought is enhanced during sleep. Therefore, to solve problems, one must first solve the problem of sleep deprivation.
  • Learning New Information. For years, sleep has been known to affect the learning process. The brain requires sleep in order to encode new information, store memories, and to recover information. These processes are not only important for absorbing information, but they are vital to examining different perspectives. Proper sleep avoids tunnel vision and reduces bias toward favorable perspectives. With a lack of sleep, effective and unbiased decision-making lags. Not praising employees for new ideas and differing opinions creates a less enthusiastic workforce and may result in a higher turn-over rate. To avoid this situation, listening to new information and understanding different perspectives is a vital component, which requires sleep.
  • Supporting Others. In order to support coworkers and fellow employees, it is necessary to empathize. However, sleep deprivation affects the way the brain interprets facial expressions and tone of voice, which can cause misinterpretation of other’s emotions. A sleep-deprived boss will more commonly express negative feelings and become easily frustrated with peers. When the boss is angry, it creates a tense working environment and often angrier employees. Additionally, studies have proven that employees are not as productive or absorbed in their work if their boss has had a restless night. The leader’s behavior affects the entire process; with a lack of sleep, the leader can create an entirely different atmosphere.

There are several ways to avoid these negative behaviors, but they all involve a good night’s rest. New findings show that there are long-term effects on leaders who are often sleep deprived. According to a Harvard Medical School study, 96% of senior leaders who were sleep deprived said they felt burned out on the job.

Although Mr. Trump’s legacy illustrates prosperity, his sleeping habits are not the cause of his success. Instead, a great leader resembles sleep and work habits illustrated by Ariana Huffington. As the cofounder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, Mrs. Huffington also experiences great prosperity. However, she always makes a point to prioritize proper sleep. This has allowed the Huffington Post to be one of the fastest growing media companies in the world. Although she is now an advocate of proper sleep and mediation in order to be

As the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, Mrs. Huffington also experiences great prosperity. However, she always makes a point to prioritize proper sleep. Her sleep patterns have allowed her to lead the Huffington Post to great success, making the Post one of the fastest growing media companies in the world. Although she is an advocate for proper sleep in order to be successful, she once resembled a work and sleep schedule similar to Mr. Trump. But after a serious fall from exhaustion, her life changed. See her new book Thrive to observe her transition from sleepless success to sleep filled prosperity. As Huffington illustrates, the effects of sleep on leadership are unquestionable.

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