(Originally published on LinkedIn)
It was very early in my career that “first big presentation day” came along. Let’s just say “I was not in the moment.”
In my youthful exuberance and self-confidence, I was involved in too many professional and personal activities. And, I was making increasingly larger withdrawals from my nightly sleep bank. I had barely slept the night before as I walked to the front of the conference room to show my boss’ superiors that hiring me was about the best thing they had done in a while. Except one thing: On this particular morning, my typically fast speech rate was moving at a crawl and inside my brain there was a gap between my thoughts the size of the Grand Canyon.
While there were over twenty people in the room, I felt like I was on one side of the canyon while they stared back at me like tourists on the other side who had spotted some creature walking perilously close to the edge across from them. I willed myself through with the compassionate help of some audience members. Fortunately, my career did not fall into the chasm. There’s nothing like facing oblivion to learn a lesson. Ever since I have made getting my sleep a priority. After all, it’s an important ingredient to performance.
This is probably the part of this blog where you would expect me to talk about all the compelling research linking sleep to health and longevity. But you probably know the statistics as well as I do. Getting quality sleep is arguably the healthiest habit one could cultivate. Instead, I’ll make the case in a different way, especially for those of you who are either in the C-Suite or who aspire to be a resident.
One of the most important tasks for the C-Suite is to develop and appoint new leaders. Why? Because the role of the leader is to ensure the health and future viability of the organization. And that means they must make important decisions about every facet of the business almost every day. The best-run companies advance their most talented people into top leadership positions based on merit and potential. They remove extraneous barriers to advancement. This has the effect of increasingly narrowing the variance in performance between executives as you get closer to the top, while also not compromising diversity of thought and talent. The latter is an important outcome as research continues to substantiate the role of diverse perspectives and capabilities in sustaining business success over the long term.
Indeed, when senior executives crash into the career abyss it often has less to do with talent gaps, and more to do with social-political conflicts and dysfunctional relationships. Emotions like anger or embarrassment can cloud one’s judgment and lead to poor decisions and interactions with others, sometimes to irretrievably bad effect.
Researchers have found that poor sleep quality prevents the brain from expelling toxins and interferes with the process of detaching extreme emotions from our memories so that they can be productively stored. Literally, not getting enough quality sleep is putting your career at risk by interfering with your ability to cultivate healthy relationships and deal with those “special moments” at work. I suspect that the workplace is not the only place where this plays out; I know Westin—the hospitality brand that pioneered giving guests a great night’s sleep—has found that 65% of people sleep less while traveling, particularly for business.
So, make getting quality sleep an important part of your career development and overall life strategy. People will thank you for it and it just might be an important reason why your C-Suite dreams come true.