Followup: costs of poor sleep

A recent National Geographic article explored sleep and some of the problems associated with lack of sleep.

Lack of sleep can be dangerous:

… Harvard’s Charles Czeisler. He notes that going without sleep for 24 hours or getting only five hours of sleep a night for a week is the equivalent of a blood alcohol level of 0.1 percent. Yet modern business ethic celebrates such feats. “We would never say, ‘This person is a great worker! He’s drunk all the time!’ ” Czeisler wrote in a 2006 Harvard Business Review article.

This finding matches up with what we’ve discussed about doctors. The problem gets hidden inside the data in the business world because the harsh measurements of death is absent; no one knows what would have happened to the Murphy account if the saleswoman had more rest. Plus, we don’t like to think about how lack of sleep impairs us.

The story I tell about lack of sleep is, of course, one from Ranger School. I think it was the last patrol in Florida phase, and I was the squad leader for a nighttime linear ambush. One of my team leaders was trying to tell me something, and he was literally falling asleep standing up, while he was talking to me. He’d drift off, stumble forward a step, catch himself, wake up, and keep talking. Amazingly I remember being wide awake at the time, and asking the RI about what you might do in just this situation. He basically said “you have to do whatever you can, because sleeping means dying.” Okay, he didn’t say the last couple words, but that lesson doesn’t have to be learned in today’s Army, not since Vietnam.

How might we put these ideas into practice? For one, if leaders delegated more fully to teams, then each team could function independently with the same task, conditions, and standards as the others (three sales teams covering the same region, for example). Let each team leader decide how to manage and lead her people. If the results are what matter, then let the results speak. Senior people shouldn’t get hung up on optics, particularly if the only reason is because it’s easier to count hours in the office than measure sales effectiveness or adjust for the quality of the leads.

So give your teams intentions-based guidance. Let the lowest-level leader decide how they’ll operate (in terms of schedule, responsiveness, mindset), and let the results speak for themselves once you gather enough data to smoke out the externalities that tough working conditions can create.

What is your number one fallback technique for taking care of your subordinates?

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