“Good leaders don’t just happen overnight,” according to Inc. You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s not quite true.
Sales leaders are known for putting in extra hours. They’re usually the first to arrive, the last to leave, and often clock in hours at home as well. We often see this as a good thing, but it comes at one massive cost — not getting enough sleep.
Sleep is the bedrock of good leadership. And not only that, but your sleep as a leader has a direct bearing on your team’s performance.
If you want to be a better sales leader, the science is clear — it starts with sleep. So, let’s look at why you’re probably not getting enough sleep, why it’s so bad for you as a leader, and how you can fix it to become a better sales leader overnight.
You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
Despite volumes of research connecting sleep and good leadership, too few leaders prioritize sleep. According to an international study conducted in 2017 by the Center for Creative Leadership, 42% of leaders get six or fewer hours of sleep a night.
If you think you get enough sleep or can get by with less than what’s recommended, you’re probably wrong. Everyone’s need for sleep is unique and genetically-determined, but most adults need between 7 and 9 hours a night. And we often significantly underestimate how underslept we are and how impaired our work performance is as a result.
According to Forbes,
“Lack of sleep … tricks you into thinking you’re an office all-star. People who slept just six hours per night for two weeks functioned as poorly as if they’d gone without sleep for 48 hours—yet they thought they were performing at the top of their game.”
Even losing just one night of sleep leads to an 11% increase in response times — the equivalent to being legally drunk.
How Sleep Debt Impacts the Four Behaviors of High-Quality Leadership
Contrary to what many believe, bosses aren’t just bad or good, period. Individual behavior can vary dramatically from day-to-day and week-to-week. What’s often responsible for this? The manager’s sleep debt (the difference between the sleep you need and the sleep you get).
Let’s take a closer look.
Keeping your team on track to hitting KPIs and other organizational goals requires you to see the big picture, deflect time-consuming distractions, and quickly identify and address issues that can impact progress.
Staying results-oriented requires attention and concentration, both of which are severely affected by a lack of sleep. In one study, researchers found that after just two nights of restricted sleep, there was a 300% increase in mental lapses that reduced alertness and attention.
Problem-solving draws on insight, creativity, and pattern recognition. And sleep plays an essential role in all of these, with your memory degrading by 40% under sleep deprivation. In one study, twice as many people gained insights after eight hours of sleep compared to those who had been awake for the same time.
Seeking different perspectives
In almost every sales call, you’re going to hear a different perspective. And if you manage five reps, you’re likely to hear five different opinions and ideas in every meeting. Quickly understanding these perspectives, identifying which ones you need to pay attention to, and integrating them into your sales strategy is vital.
Sleep deprivation makes it difficult to learn new information, and it decreases our likelihood to revise and adapt strategies in response to changes and failures. One night of good sleep, on the other hand, improves task learning speed by up to 20% and accuracy by up to 39%.
Lack of sleep similarly impairs decision making. After two nights of sleep deprivation, one study showed significantly greater difficulty deciding upon a course of action.
How Your Sleep Affects Others
It’s crucial to note that sleep deprivation doesn’t just undermine your actions as a leader, but it also negatively affects your subordinates’ performance — often without you even realizing. That means one leader with bad sleep habits can affect an entire sales team’s performance and, by extension, an entire company’s revenue.
Sleep deprivation causes a decline in leadership ability (as we mentioned above), and this causes your teams’ perception of you and your abilities to deteriorate. Your relationship with them worsens, and this leads to drops in productivity and performance. The problem gets worse because your team often ends up sleeping less due to stress and working extra hours to make up for their lower numbers. And this leads to them performing even worse.
Lack of Sleep Undermines Relationships
The best leaders understand and sense how other people feel. By being authentic and having a sincere interest in those around them, they build trust and inspire their colleagues to overcome challenges.
Sleep supports this by freeing up your mind from the previous days’ stresses so you can better focus on supporting others.
A lack of sleep, conversely, makes supporting others just about impossible. For starters, you’ve probably experienced feeling irritable when you sleep poorly. Lack of sleep makes self-control more difficult, and you’re more likely you’ll overreact and express your feelings negatively.
Sleep deprivation also makes it difficult to interpret other people’s emotions through their facial expressions or tone of voice.
In one study, Christopher Barnes, an organizational behavior researcher, surveyed 88 leaders and their subordinates for two weeks, and he found that when bosses slept poorly, they were more likely to exhibit abusive behavior the next day.
Another study by Barnes measured the sleep of 40 managers and their 120 direct reports during the first three months of their assigned time working together along with the quality of these boss-employee relationships. His team found sleep-deprived leaders were more impatient, irritable, and antagonistic, resulting in poor relationships. The researchers expected this effect would diminish over time as people got to know each other, but it did not. Most problematic of all, these groggy leaders were completely unaware of the negative dynamic that persisted throughout the three-month study.
Lack of Sleep Undermines Your Ability to Inspire Your Team
Beyond patience and an even temper, another key aspect of supporting your team is inspiring them — especially in times like these.
Your ability to encourage, motivate, and inspire is severely hampered when you’re underslept. The perceived charisma of leaders dropped 13% when they lost just two hours of sleep in one study.
Lack of Sleep as a Leader Transmits to Everyone Around You
Consider a typical scenario where a manager might boast about only getting a few hours of sleep or sending work emails in the middle of the night. Or they might praise employees who work late nights.
This isn’t uncommon, especially in Sales, and employees pay attention to these signals and change their behavior accordingly. Indeed, subordinates of leaders who model poor sleep habits get about 25 fewer minutes of sleep a night. They also report that their sleep is lower in quality.
This is a big problem with cascading effects.
How to Become a Better Leader Overnight
Alright, you’re convinced, I hope. So how do you fix your sleep, and become a better sales leader?
After all, poor sleep habits can be deeply entrenched. You can find many tips for better sleep with a quick Google search, but to save you the time, we’ve summarized some science-based best practices to encourage naturalistic sleep:
Awareness: There are two key parts of sleep that you need to understand. The first is your sleep debt, or how much sleep you’ve missed in the past 14 days.
The second is your circadian rhythm, which drives your daily energy peaks and dips. Most people have two natural windows of high alertness and wakefulness, which, for many, fall in the late morning and late afternoon. During the dip in-between (which generally occurs in the early afternoon), your body is naturally programmed to relax and recover. Sleep debt will amplify these dips significantly.
The exact times of your peaks and dips differ from person to person and will change slightly each day, based on your exposure to light among other factors.
As a manager, you might expect your employees to be at their best at all hours of the workday, but that’s an unrealistic expectation.
Plan your most important tasks for when you and your team are at or near your peaks in focus (within an hour or so of noon and 6 pm). Schedule tasks requiring less focus within 90 mins of waking up, early afternoon, and later at night.
As you track your own sleep — and encourage your team to do the same — you’ll learn to organize your time around your natural rhythms even better, and that’s when you’ll begin to see true productivity shifts.
Environment: A large part of sleep has to do with your environment. This is something most people know — we just often choose to ignore it. In order to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep, make your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet, like a cave.
Set the thermostat to between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, ensure your room is dark, and wear earplugs.
Behavior: Get natural sunlight first thing in the morning and be active. During the day, stop drinking caffeine as early in the day as possible, or altogether, and avoid napping too late in the afternoon.
By evening, you should avoid late large meals, limit alcohol, and block blue light (there’s a setting for this on most smartphones).
Lead by Example
Remember that your team is watching you for cues about what’s important in the workplace. Stop wearing sleep deprivation like a badge of honor, and if you must write a late-night email, use a delayed-delivery option, so you’re at least modeling the right behavior for your team.
You can undoubtedly squeeze in more work, a hobby, or more hours with your partner if you sleep less, but at what cost?
Make sleep a priority, and become a better sales leader overnight.