The Importance of Pairing Technology with Expertise

At a party after New Years I noticed a change in people’s attire – everyone I spoke with seemed to have new watches or bracelets made out of rubber of some kind. But they weren’t watches really, they were wearable technology.  Why were all of these people wearing them?  Because they think wearing them will help them get more fit.  Their idea is that the more data they have about what they’re doing, the more focused they’ll be on making changes.  And they’re right – to a point.

490928651Tracking distance walked, run, or cycled does help you know how far you’ve moved your body.  Knowing that your heart rate goes up a lot when you walk up stairs quickly makes you realize how going up the steps affects you.  It might also be useful to have a gadget tell you when you had a deep sleep and when you tossed and turned a lot.

One of the great things having the technology does for the user is to give them measurements they can pay attention to while they work to improve.  Do they do go further distances every day?  How is their heart rate?  How did they sleep?

But the technology doesn’t tell them how to improve, it just tells them what happened.  To figure out what to do to improve on any particular metric they have to do two things:  examine the data closely, and talk with someone who can help them decide what to do to improve.

The same is true for leadership.  It is critically important to get good measurements you can track over time to see improvements.  This is true both for leaders acting as individuals wanting to learn and develop, and for those acting as leaders of the organization. Many leaders use evaluations, 360s, performance reviews, and employee engagement surveys to get data they can use.  But, like wearable tech, these only provide numbers.  In some cases they can show a deficit in a particular area (like the heart rate is too high when walking slowly), but they can’t tell you what to do about it.  Going further distances might help . . . but it might not. You need people to help figure out what to do with the information.

This is why seeking advice and feedback from others is so critical – whether for personal health or leadership health.  Others can help you think through the meaning of the data you have and help you decide where you want to focus your efforts to improve.  Coaches are especially good at helping you look at the numbers and put together an action plan to make the improvements you’re looking for.  They have such a breadth of knowledge and understanding that they can suggest forms of exercise you might not have thought of – forms that may end up being more effective for getting you closer to the goal you’re looking for.

I pair technology with expertise because I want to find the most effective way to get from where I am to where I want to be, and I know I’ll get there faster if I can rely on someone to help me find the most efficient way to do it.  What about you?

Posted in Communication & Leadership Secrets, Talent Management & Development, Work Life Balance | Leave a comment

The 5 Biggest Keys to Leading Innovation

This article was co-authored by Jonathan Vehar.

A recent global survey by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) found that 94 percent of executives believe that innovation is a key driver of organizational success. And yet, just 14 percent of those respondents have confidence in their organization’s ability to drive innovation effectively.

466470105For leaders and organizations trying to close that gap, leadership makes all the difference.

In fact, our own extensive experience with helping clients around the world foster innovation – coupled with a growing body of research – convinces us that leadership is the single most important factor for nurturing creativity and fueling innovation at the individual, team and organizational levels.

Simply put, leaders must act in ways that promote and support innovation in their cultures.

In CCL’s new open-enrollment program Driving Results Through Innovation, we delve extensively into five core practices for developing innovation leadership. Let’s take a quick look at each of them here:

  • Realize that roles and capabilities needed for innovation vary by level: Successful innovation involves every level on the organizational chart, from the individuals who identify novel ideas, to the middle managers who champion them, to the senior executives who shape the overall culture. Understanding the different skills required to drive innovation by level focuses leaders on their responsibilities and helps target training and development.
  • Focus on an innovation process: Innovation in organizations cannot be a random or unstructured activity. It requires people with innovation mindsets who work together to explore, ideate, craft and implement groundbreaking ideas. When leaders understand how this process works, they can spot gaps and develop a strategy for filling them.
  • Identify and leverage different contributions: Since innovation is a process with different steps and stages, varying skills, perspectives and contributions are needed along the way – which means tapping talent across the organization. It’s the role of leaders to ensure that the innovation process involves a wide diversity of thought and experience.
  • Work across boundaries: Innovation requires leaders to influence, connect and collaborate with people who have different innovation styles. Without these capabilities, boundaries and bureaucracy can easily kill innovation. It’s critical to work across organizational boundaries, whether they are vertical, horizontal, geographic, demographic, or stakeholder-related.
  • Embrace polarities: Paradoxes and conflicting priorities must be approached from a stance of Polarity Thinking (as developed by Barry Johnson), which helps leaders determine how to understand and respond to issues that don’t have fixed solutions. For example, from this mindset, there isn’t a clear answer for a first-level manager weighing whether to deliver immediate results or champion a new process. Making a good call requires skill at navigating conflicting viewpoints.

The yawning gap that today’s leaders see between the importance of innovation and the ability of their organizations to engage in it productively doesn’t have to exist. When organizations support leaders at all levels and help employees develop the knowledge, experience and toolsets they need, a leadership culture that sustains innovation will take hold.

David Magellan Horth, Smith Richardson Senior Fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership, and Jonathan Vehar, a senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership, are co-authors of the new white paper “Innovation: How Leadership Makes the Difference.”

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How to Decide If a Training Solution is the Best Solution, Using a ‘Three-Question’ Calculation

We all know there are numerous options for developing people. Yet we have all come across occasions when the response to a development need is to ‘send them on a course!’

And so an employee trots off to attend a training course, has a nice lunch, meets some nice people, and comes back full of and enthusiasm that lasts for a morning. A week later a perplexed manager is wondering why there is no discernible difference in performance, behaviour or skill.

The lack of improvement is usually attributed to ineffective training. A bewildered trainer will often respond by attributing the lack of impact on some inadequacy in the delegate, the client, the choice of training course, the content design. There may be some truth in all of these reasons, but the real reason often comes down to the selection of training as a solution in the first place.

I want to spend a few minutes showing you how a simple Three Question Calculation may help to decide if you should proceed to explore a training solution.

Let’s consider three factors that influence how employees learn to do something differently.


If any of these is deficient, then a training solution is unlikely to be the most successful solution. Let’s put this to the test:

On a piece of paper, name an employee you are about to send on a training course. Now using a scoring system where 0 is lowest and 10 is highest. Write down a score for these three simple questions:


I would suggest that if the Grand Total is less than 20 out of 30, then a Training Solution is not likely to have much impact.

Why? In my example, the opportunity to put the learning into practice is not really high enough, so Clive is likely to forget his learning before he has a chance to practice. His manager needs to know this and do something about it, if a training solution is going to be really effective.

More cases where this calculation helps avoid wasting training budgets are:

  • Employees who are given software training months before the implementation and forget it all.
  • People who are sent on project management training but are not given a project to manage on return to work.
  • An employee who asks to go on Advanced Excel training, yet does not have the numerical reasoning skills to grasp some of the formula concepts.
  • Employees who are sent on Supervisory Courses to ‘get their enthusiasm back’.

You will have your own stories, and you can modify the scores based on your own experience and situations.

I have found this a useful ‘quick check’ with managers who demand training solutions for their own problem people, or use training as a quick fix. Sometimes the best solution is for the manager to coach the employee, or link them to a buddy or shadowing opportunity, or a mentor. It could equally be solved by delegation or inclusive practices by the manager.

Whatever the other options are, this three-question calculation can often help you to get a manager to focus on what solution is really best for the individual.

If all else fails, then you will probably be asked to ‘send them on a training course’ anyway!

Posted in Organizational Development, Talent Management & Development | 1 Comment

4 Classic Leadership Mistakes You Can Avoid

john-ryan-influencer-columnThis column is one of several that CCL President and CEO John Ryan has written on leadership as a Linkedin Influencer. Click to view all his columns and sign up to receive future posts.

One of the best things about starting my career in a big organization like the U.S. Navy was the opportunity it afforded to watch many different kinds of leaders in action. As I shifted from one assignment to another – learning how to fly planes, navigate ships and create strategic plans – I’d closely observe the behaviors of both my superiors and peers, wanting to emulate their best qualities.

Frequently, they fell into two groups – those who talked about how much they had to do and those who actually got things done.

Some leaders constantly walked around with big checklists they never seemed to complete. That’s because, as the day went on, they reacted to events by putting more things on the list. But they never really prioritized their tasks. So the days would often end with a few things checked off and twice as many new ones added – and the most important items getting buried deeper on the list!

These leaders had fallen into the “I’m so busy!” trap – the classic leadership mistake of confusing busyness with value. I’ll confess to being prone to it as well. Busyness is the cocaine of today’s knowledge workers. We get addicted to it when we react to what is right in front of us on our tablets, screens and other mobile devices, or when we attend endless meetings that result in no action.

Let’s be honest: most of us believe being busy is a badge of honor. We are proud to tell everyone just how incredibly busy we are. Unfortunately, we are most likely not delivering results in this state of mind because we’re not being strategic.

We can learn from those other Naval officers I encountered, the ones who spent less time with endless checklists and more on a handful of priorities that really mattered. I learned from them that starting each day with a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish focuses you on what’s most important, versus the mundane and seemingly urgent e-mails, meetings and other brushfires.

It’s ok to be busy. That’s reality in the 21st century. But it’s not ok to be busy without a larger plan that keeps you on course and a commitment to giving yourself adequate time to focus and reflect. Take time periodically to ask yourself, “What are the three things I want to accomplish today, this week or this month? Why? And how can I make sure they get done?”

That’s a good start toward avoiding leadership Mistake No. 2: “I’m not responsible.”

We’re all sadly familiar by now with the unfortunate phrase “Mistakes were made.” These words are regularly trotted out by politicians, business executives and coaches when things go wrong but nobody wants to take the blame. “Mistakes were made” even has its own Wikipedia entry, which traces the phrase back to the scandal-riddled administration of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant in the 1870s.

Leaders who take credit for successes but pass the buck for failures are not in control or engaged. And employees and clients don’t buy their behavior. We instinctively know they are “renters” – self-serving individuals who are focused solely on their own welfare. What we want instead are “owners” – leaders who take responsibility for their team’s failures and their own shortcomings. They send important messages to their colleagues and stakeholders by signaling their awareness of problems and their commitment to doing everything possible to get them fixed. All it takes to be an owner is to act like one.

If the first two leadership mistakes involve our own leadership styles, the other two classic errors are grounded in how we interact with the women and men we’re privileged to lead. That brings us to leadership Mistake No. 3: “I can save this person!”

During my years in higher education, we had an administrator that I liked quite a bit personally but who wasn’t leading his own people well. This became a chronic issue that deeply affected the morale of his team, and I was determined to fix it with one-on-one coaching. In the end, I invested too much time trying to help this individual make changes that he didn’t really want to make. By the time I finally demoted him, it was obvious that he didn’t have the emotional intelligence needed for a senior role – and never would. I was more than fair with him; I also should have been much more decisive in realizing the limits of my influence and focusing on his colleagues who were performing at a high level and truly deserved more of my time.

Conversely, when interacting with direct reports, there’s the danger of miring ourselves in Mistake No. 4: “Here’s what you’re doing wrong.” Here, instead of looking too hard for positives in a losing situation, we take a winning situation and interject problems into it. Yes, all of our employees, even the most talented ones, will have their weaknesses. Like us, they are human. But we need to be careful not to get so obsessed with repairing their shortcomings that we take their strengths for granted.

In my experience, we’ll get more results from our co-workers by helping them maximize their strengths, rather than trying to lift them from weak to average in a different area. This isn’t to say we should ignore weaknesses altogether because, sometimes, they can derail careers. But, in conversations with our talent, it’s best to lead with specific examples of what they’re doing well and why it’s appreciated. This will build their confidence and their trust in us as leaders, making it much easier to raise legitimate issues and work together on improving them.

The leadership mistakes explored here are classic because they’re made all the time. Certainly, I’ve fallen into each of these traps. But by naming and anticipating them, we have a much greater chance of making the right moves next time.

Posted in Communication & Leadership Secrets, Experience-Driven Development, First Time Managers, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Using The Bench for Maximum Impact

179224573I was talking to a local sports coach who was worried about his team’s lack of bench-strength. During the season his players would get injured, ill, tired and fatigued, and he needed a strong bench to make it to the end of the season. If this is an unclear term to you, you are not alone. We realized that most of us in Talent Development talk about ‘bench-strength’, may not be clear what it really means or how to use it.

The bench comprises of strong and skilled players who do not start the game but sit ready to play when needed. A clever sports team manager tactically moves players off the bench and into, or out of the game to have an impact. Bench-strength is necessary for winning.

Players on the bench are there for a purpose. They come into the game at times when:

  • Players in high intensity positions are tiring.
  • Where the introduction of a key player can have an impact on the game.
  • When the opposition is weakening and specific players can take advantage of this to open the game up, or close it down.

Do you remember the term ‘First Team Players’ and ‘Substitutes’? The first significant point is that bench-players are not ‘substitutes’ who may possibly get a game if someone is injured. In the modern game, it is difficult for players in some positions to keep up the extreme level of intensity required in a full game. They are all ‘first team players’ and are rotated for maximum impact.

The second significant point is that a bench-player always plays at some point in every game. They have a specific role to play.

In Talent Management we talk about building bench-strength. What often happens is that employees are told they are in the Talent Pool, and then:

  • Have to wait months before an assignment.
  • Have to wait for someone to resign in order to get into the role.
  • Have few chances to get involved in high intensity situations.
  • And so get disillusioned.

What we can learn from the Sports Manager is this:

  • Bench-players are used as a strategy to give other players a rest, and so perform to a high level overall.
  • Players will tire, will get fatigued, and need to know there are other impact players coming on.
  • Players perform at high intensity for a given period of time.
  • Leaders need to know when to pull a player out of the game and use someone from The Bench.

A typical sporting team will carry a number of bench-players. This has implications for Talent Management:

  • Can you rotate your managers into and out of the game at strategic points when they can add real impact? Can you spot when this is needed? Can you move people in and out within your policies and processes?
  • The stress and strain of high intensity business implies some people will need to be rested for a time. Do you currently wait until ‘burn-out’? Is it seen as routine to rest people for a time? Can you do this?
  • Your bench is part of your key team. Are they included in the full business decision-making processes, or seen as substitutes in the absence of others?
  • Is your bench strong enough to play a strategic role, regularly?

Watch a professional team game, and observe how the coach moves players on and off the pitch, when, and with what impact. Don’t let your talent bench become the substitutes’ bench.

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Leading Authentically in a Curated World

This article was co-authored by Susan Tardanico.

When it comes to creating a personal digital brand, we’re all in.

As executives who also blog about women and leadership, we’ve seen up close the positive impact that savvy use of social media can have on individual careers and entire organizations. The opportunity that digital platforms offer to build and sustain two-way relationships in the marketplace is unprecedented.

But we also have some misgivings.

Because if we’re being candid, here’s the truth: We post things on Twitter and LinkedIn that make us look smart. We post pictures on Facebook and Instagram that show we are having the best experiences. We blog about our successes and the things we do better than other people.

In this era of personal brand building that is wide open for the whole world to see, we are very reluctant to talk about failures or fears. It’s hard to show weaknesses and vulnerability when we are trying to project an image to the world of a competent, polished, successful person.

The effort to create and maintain our professional image can be exhausting – and makes it even more difficult to be honest and authentic in person with the people we work with every day.

If we’re worried about looking stupid or incompetent, how can we say that we feel like throwing up every time we give a speech? Or that it took us eight hours to write a memo because we’re struggling with how to frame the issue?

The pressure to keep up appearances is accelerating in our curated world. It can affect anyone – and, when a big enough gap exists between our actual abilities and our perceptions of them, it can derail careers, as we explore in our new book Beating the Impostor Syndrome.

In our work as executive coaches over the past several years, we’ve found that many highly successful women in particular suffer from the Impostor Syndrome – a fear that they haven’t earned their success and that they will one day be proven to be a fraud.

The Impostor Syndrome doesn’t impact only women; in fact, about two-thirds of all executives we’ve coached over the past few years exhibited signs of it. But it is very consistently an issue with the women we coach. These women don’t call their issues “Impostor Syndrome,” but they talk about its symptoms: lack of confidence, not ‘leaning in,’ perfectionism, overwork. These behaviors emerge because they feel they aren’t good enough, they’re not the right fit and they don’t have the right credentials.

A highly self-motivated, over-achieving woman may feel like she has been under the microscope her entire career. So, understandably, she becomes hyper-vigilant about her image and keeping it polished – and that drives her farther and farther from her authentic self.

Anyone who has a deep sense of “I don’t naturally belong here,” – including people of color and those who are “different” in terms of economic, educational or cultural background – may also feel like impostors. The Impostor Syndrome, coupled with the constant digital curation of our careers and lives, makes honesty and authenticity a challenge. Showing doubt or talking about struggles or admitting to mistakes is frightening.

We have to get away from this mentality. We need to be able to share our struggles because those struggles are what help us become more effective, more compassionate and more successful individuals.

We don’t have to start baring our souls on Facebook (too many people do that already!), but we do need to start opening up to people we trust. We might just find that others – sometimes those, in fact, that we respect and admire the most – have some of the very same fears and challenges that we do. Talks with them can help us realize the flaws in our own self-perceptions. And that’s an important step in ridding ourselves of negative beliefs about our own abilities and enhancing our performance as a leader.

Many of us feel compelled to cultivate a strong digital brand that positions us for success – and that’s ok. These days, there’s really no way of getting around it. Just don’t forget that the real you still needs tending too.

Portia Mount, senior vice president and chief of staff at the Center for Creative Leadership, and Susan Tardanico, founding partner and CEO of the Authentic Leadership Alliance, are co-authors of Beating the Impostor Syndrome (CCL Press, 2014).

Posted in Communication & Leadership Secrets, Emotional Intelligence | Tagged | Leave a comment

Microsoft CEO Says Trust the System

“It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.

I found this statement interesting, not because it was related to women and asking for a pay raise (that’s another topic altogether), but because it clearly demonstrated what Mr. Nadella believes happens in organizations. He believes that people get raises and are given more responsibility because they have faith in the system.

Really? Is that how people get raises and get promoted? Is that what you believe? That is certainly one perspective. And I’m not surprised it is his perspective, because he is a CEO.

His perspective is consistent with what I found in a research project a few years ago. In that study I asked a sample of 2700 respondents whether people get ahead because of their performance or because of their skill at office politics. What I found is consistent with the belief system Mr. Nadella espoused: People at higher levels are more likely to believe that employees get ahead because of their performance, while people at lower levels are more likely to believe that employees get ahead because of their skill at office politics.

It is understandable that leaders believe that they have achieved their positions primarily because of their performance, and that they believe others get ahead as a result of performance. At the same time, leaders need to realize that those below them in the organization do not have the same belief about why people get ahead within an organization. The lower you go in an organization the more likely people are to say that others above them got there because of their skill at office politics rather than because of performance.

If it wasn’t clear before, the outcry over Nadella’s comments makes it clear that leaders need to think very carefully about how they communicate regarding how people get ahead within their organization. While pushing a performance-based explanation is understandable, leaders need to realize that to many of those lower in the organization the explanation may be perceived as self-congratulatory, ignorant of reality, or deliberately deceptive. Rarely is it going to be perceived as completely honest and accurate.

Unless, of course, the leader explicitly adds that they believe a critical component of performance is skill at office politics.

What explanations for success in organizations resonate with you?

Posted in Talent Management & Development | 6 Comments

What was that all about? Another waste of my time!

Have you ever sat in a meeting wondering what the purpose of it was? Have you ever had a conversation with a manager and decided it was all rather pointless? Most people have at some time in their lives.

This got me thinking about how the CCL view of leadership can be translated into a very practical and day-to-day tool to help managers in their conversations with, well, anybody. CCL views leadership as a series of outputs; when you see evidence of direction, alignment and commitment, then leadership is happening. Stay with me, and I will show you what I mean.

What does this look like to a first-line manager? Let’s look at most meetings, they tend to run like this story from a new I.T. supervisor:

‘My manager told us of the problem, and then we dived in and started to talk about down-time, fixes, bugs in the software, ways of re-writing the codes, and so on. Half the team lost interest, and we ended up after two hours no further on than when we started!’

Here’s a diagram of what should have been happening. 

Goal:   Most meetings have a goal (or should), however this needs to be revisited several times in the meeting, and a check made that everyone is clear and moving towards the same goal. Stating the purpose once at the start is not enough because most meetings change direction.

Work:   People start to work on various tasks and look very ‘busy’, but this is often non-productive. This is where most of the time is spent, and most of the manager’s focus is making sure lots of ‘work’ is done to solve the immediate problem. However, people often end up working on separate problems out of alignment.

Climate:   Nobody checks that others are engaged, have a chance to contribute, or are even interested. People switch off if they have no part to play, or feel marginalised and ignored. It is a rare manager who asks people how they feel a meeting is going and ask about their commitment.

A manager who asks simple questions about goal, work and climate will find the chance of a successful meeting, one-to-one, or discussion, will increase.

Leadership is not all about a grand vision or a large strategic initiative. It can be seen in the little things, small meetings, conversations on the way to the coffee machine, and private discussions.

Makes it all rather easy doesn’t it? Or if you prefer, you could hear people leave the meeting asking:

‘What was that all about? Another waste of my time!’

Posted in Communication & Leadership Secrets, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The obsession with getting half-way

How many evaluation sheets have you filled in at the end of a training event? I’ve been part of the training industry for over 15 years and I’ve handed out my share of these ‘happy’ sheets. I’m also increasingly confronted with our institutionalized obsession with getting half-way. I’m talking about learning transfer here. I’m talking about the gap between the dream of demonstrating behavioral and performance impact over time and the reality of giving ourselves high-fives on a ‘5’ star satisfaction score at the end of the event. I’m talking about how getting half-way just isn’t good enough.

The end game of leadership development is what leaders do afterwards in terms of their behaviour. It isn’t a halfway stop like increased knowledge – not even the very important self-knowledge-, or satisfaction, or a test score, or a certificate, or setting goals, or feeling confident we are capable. As important and even essential in the development process as these are: they are intermediate achievements. They are getting half-way. I just think we can do better than that.  Don’t get me wrong: CCL and others in the industry are providing a developmental service. As any service provider we should demonstrate the quality and satisfaction with the service and we can do so with satisfaction surveys and net promoter scores just fine. But as an industry we are so focused on doing that, that for a mixture of reasons and excuses the evaluation of the developmental part all too often remains rather thin.

What is stopping us as an industry?

  • Split accountability: The measurements of the ultimate yard stick are not within the scope of either HR or its training provider. In corporate training there is the heritage of a ‘belt line’ approach to development that we inherited from the education world. A university’s goal is to issue diplomas (again, a half-way achievement) which serve as entry tickets to the next stage of the belt line: the job market. Similarly the mental model in corporations is “we from HR get them capable, and then you folks in the business lines use them and make profit”. This split world view leads us to optimize sub-parts that in reality are neither independent nor sequential
  • Time horizon: There is the complicating factor of time. Typically the impact of leadership development takes time to manifest itself and has an impact over a long period– even for your next employer.  Satisfaction scores are what we can immediately measure.
  • Show me the money: Asking surveys about satisfaction (a poor indicator of learning impact) or intent to change behaviour (people are known to over-estimate their capability to changing habits) is very easy and cheap to do. Anything more substantial not only requires collaboration between stakeholders and requires patience, it also brings extra costs. I’ve never encountered a client who wasn’t interested in measuring learning impact – until it became a budget line.

So what will help us move beyond half-way?

  • Return-on-Expectations: I’ll state the obvious when I say we need to be clear from the beginning on what we expect the impact of the program to be. So if we’re after increase in competency mastery we can have a before and after 360 (eg CCL’s Reflection). If we are after more network links between leaders we can do an Organizational Network Analysis. If we are after more effective leadership behaviours we can use the performance review data, the engagement survey data and the input of line managers and direct reports.  I’ll go beyond the obvious by stating that if these expectations are not solely learning goals they shouldn’t be measured with learning evaluation. Being enrolled in a program with a prestigious business school might actually be more about rewards and retention than learning. If that is the case – measure it as such.
  • Interdependence: Over the years we have moved ownership of the learning process partly away from HR to the empowered learner. We will also need to move the accountability of learning from sitting squarely with the HR department or the training provider to a joint and interdependent responsibility of individual learners, training providers and the business.
  • Really finding it important: Ultimately we will need to really find measuring the ultimate impact of our development programs more important.  That means walking our talk and spending the time and money matching its importance.

So next time you receive an evaluation sheet, what will you do?

Posted in Coaching & Feedback | Tagged | Leave a comment

Want to improve your leadership? Try sleeping on it.

This article was co-authored by Cathleen Clerkin.

Why should leaders care about their sleep?

For many leaders, lack of sleep is almost a badge of honor. At work, people mention how little sleep they’ve gotten, as if this fact demonstrates their effectiveness, dedication, or ambition. After all, what better way to get ahead of the pack then by putting in the extra hours? The current mainstream business culture reinforces this too, with round-the-clock demands: middle-of-the night conference calls, cross-continental travel, and constant interruptions. Yet, while burning the midnight oil may seem effective in the short term, research demonstrates that in the long term, skipping out on sleep is a sure way to damage your performance.

What impact does sleep have on leadership?

Sleep—or lack of it—can greatly affect your ability to lead. Neuroscience experts have shown that sleep deprivation impairs health, brain power, motor skills, and people skills—reducing effectiveness in decision making and problem solving in all aspects of life. For instance, sleep is required in order for the brain to consolidate memories and integrate new information.  Therefore, sleep deprivation can lead to poor memory, diminished focus and slower responses, making it difficult to make important decisions in uncertain and complex work environments.

Sleep deprivation also impairs mood regulation, often leading to anxiety and hostility, which can make it difficult to engage in the interpersonal processes necessary for leadership. In addition to mood and cognitive impairments, sleep deprivation has also been shown to have significant negative effects on physical health, including higher risks of accidents, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.

So while putting in long hours may seem necessary to manage heavy workloads, in the long run (taking into account the tolls on your cognition, mood, and health) the better way to increase your performance and productivity is to actually work less and sleep more.

How can leaders get better sleep?

Research shows that getting an ample amount of sleep will improve your performance more than trading sleep for additional working time.  But what if you just can’t fall asleep? Fortunately, sleep experts have discovered a number of tactics that are effective at improving the quality of sleep.

Leaders who are ready for a better night’s rest should try these 6 tips:

  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule (going to bed and waking up at the same time)
  • Create a relaxing bedtime ritual to help unwind (take a bath, read a novel, etc.)
  • Refrain from using your bed as a workspace (e.g. no eating, arguing, texting, typing)
  • Leave bed if sleep isn’t happening (do something relaxing, return to bed when you’re tired)
  • Avoid getting revved up at night (no work messages, bright lights, caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine)
  • Exercise early and daily (avoid working out within 3 hours of bed time).

What if you were no longer sleep deprived?

Like any leadership skill, improving your sleep requires self-awareness and takes some practice. We at CCL would like to challenge you to try improving your leadership through getting better sleep. To accept this challenge, try out the following steps:

  1. Start paying attention to your sleep habits. How many hours of sleep are you getting? Are you well-rested in the morning? What helps you sleep and what hinders you? (e.g. eating, drinking, working) Try keeping a sleep diary to keep track of your sleep habits.
  2. Learn the strategies of good sleep. We’ve described some of these sleep tactics in this blog. For additional tips, check out Harvard Medical School, The Sleep Foundation and The Sleep Council.
  3. Make changes to your sleep routine. Use the information you’ve gained from learning about sleep and paying attention to your sleep habits to inform and change what you do at bedtime. Experiment to see what works and what doesn’t. Make sure you are paying attention to what habits lead to your best night’s sleep.

Remember, making time for sleep is not a sign of laziness or weakness, but rather, it’s a sign of strong leadership.  If you can’t improve your sleep quality on your own, see your doctor.  There are treatments and therapies for many sleep disorders.

We want to hear from you!

Are you ready to take our sleep challenge? Let us know how your sleep experiments go.  We want to know whether getting more sleep affects your leadership!  Which sleep tips work for you?  Which don’t? Do you have any secret sleep-tips you want to share with other leaders? Share your stories and experiences by leaving a comment on this blog post!

Additional Resources:

The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation Infographic from HealthCentral


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