Sleep for Superpowers. Or, How to Create a Toxic Leader
Updated: Nov 25, 2019
"Sleep is the cousin of death." - Nas, 1994.
Sleep less, accomplish more. This seems like a reasonable solution when “there’s not enough time in the day.” Contrary to the classic bar from the great 90’s poet Nas, sleep and death are not kin. In fact, Sleep is more like the father of peak performance.
The S3 is feared. The S3 grinds. The S3 is the overlord of the operations salt mine. The S3 is a jerk?
The brigade and battalion operations officer (S3) occupy a notoriously challenging position. Given the responsibility of the position and the implications of performance as an S3 on future job opportunities, the caricature of the S3 is red-faced and angry; they maintain Hefty sized garbage bags under their eyes; their foot is held “gently” on the neck of a very disheveled lieutenant. In reality, maybe the S3 is just determined and quite under-slept. Unfortunately, even slight sleep deprivation creates the potential for some very negative leader outcomes.
For example, a 2014 study of daily leader sleep quality shows that leaders with poor sleep engage in abusive behavior at work. Not surprisingly, the same study showed that this sort of behavior actually results in decreased productivity and engagement from subordinate units. This counters the notion that it’s simply in the S3’s nature to be a jerk. Maybe the low sleep battle rhythm actually predisposes the S3 to a jerk-like disposition. It’s easy to make an example of the S3 because most Soldiers have experienced an operations officer that personified tired and irritable, but insufficient sleep is actually every leader’s problem.
Poor sleep. Every leader’s enemy.
Great leaders inspire others to perform at the peak of their potential. Inspiring others might be described as one of many components that contribute to the “art” of leadership, but inspiration is only part of the equation. The science of peak performance is also a critical component of the equation -- a component that is rarely explored alongside leadership. Research in the field of peak performance shows an ideal physiological and psychological profile associated with peak performance. To truly maximize potential, leaders must set conditions for achieving these ideal states. One of the most effective, well-researched, scientifically supported ways to set conditions for optimal performance is to sleep well. The impact of sleep on cognitive and physical performance is well-documented, but sleep also impacts qualities that are more unique to great leader performance.