Article: Sleep deprivation is costing you your leadership charisma

Life @ Work

Sleep deprivation is costing you your leadership charisma

As a leader, how well you sleep influences your working relationship with your followers.
Sleep deprivation is costing you your leadership charisma

Can you think of a day when you woke up feeling grumpy because you didn’t sleep well (hint: tossing and turning, feeling groggy)? In any case, despite that, you still went to work. You didn’t have a particularly good day and were mostly tired and small things like the printer not working ticked you off? Well, the good news is that it is normal and a lot of people actually experience a mood swing on such days. The downside, however, especially if you are a leader, is that your lack of control over your emotions which affects your relationship with your team members.  

There have been researches conducted in the past and published in Harvard Business Review that relate sleep deprivation with the behavior of leaders. One of the studies relates evidence to how sleep deprivation undermines leader charisma and another that states it can result in abusive superior behavior. Now, the researchers in another study, have discovered that sleep influences the “leader-follower working relationship quality in newly assigned leader-follower pairings. The premise they based their research on was that ‘sleep deprivation would make leaders and followers experience more negative emotions at work (in the form of hostility)’.

In the first field study, with newly assigned leader-follower pairs, they asked 86 pairs to complete a survey that had questions about their sleep, relationship quality, hostility etc. The results pointed to the fact that sleep deprivation on part of both the leader and follower was harmful to the way the working relationship is perceived by both parties. 

In the second segment of the study, researchers asked both leaders and followers to fill out the survey for next three months. The same results were replicated with an additional finding that ‘sleep deprivation of leaders was unrelated to their own perceptions of their relationship quality with their followers (and vice versa for followers)’. In simple words, the sleep-deprived leaders weren’t remotely aware that it is their sleep-deprivation that is affecting their working relationship with their followers. 

At this point, I’d like to ask those of you in leadership positions, if you’ve heard of Peter Tripp? He was a popular disc jockey and a radio personality in the 1950s in the US. The reason I’m bringing him up is that he stayed up for 201 hours spinning records from a glass booth in the middle of Times Square. He did this ‘Wakeathon’ to earn money for the March of Dimes Charity and also to break a then existing world record.  Despite the doctors and psychologists advising him against it, he went ahead with his decision. 

Initially, he seemed fine: fun and jocular until the second day. He became highly irritable, angry and insulting and began cursing people he knew. Towards the end of those waking hours his upbeat and cheerful demeanor was gone and after five days he began hallucinating. 

Even though you may not be going to extremes like Tripp did but being in a leadership position if you are compromising on your sleep quality then you need to pay attention. What good is trading sleep hours with more work anyway? It will only sabotage your ability to lead your team or inspire them to become better at work. 

If you really want to keep going and become a role model for your employees then you better sleep well. A research published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology indicates that when a leader expresses positive emotions, the team experiences the same emotions too. They, in turn, associate this with leader’s charisma, meaning the leader is inspiring. 

So, how about bringing your equation with your followers in focus? You do know now that your emotions do impact their engagement with you and work they do. Begin with showing respect, care, and positive emotions. They are worthy of a healthy, positive work environment and you shouldn’t deny them that. 


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Topics: Life @ Work

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