Blog Post No. 58
6th April 2018
Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2018
Renata’s Coaching Blog: Do managers/leaders realise how crucial their sleep habits are for their staff?
“Your abusive boss is probably an insomniac:”- A revealing research study by a Professor of Management
I continue to do my research on the science of sleep, and the things I am discovering are really quite fascinating. I have begun to structure my book on this subject as I go along with my research.
Here’s an example of the kinds of things I’m discovering:
“Your abusive boss is probably an insomniac”
When people are in a position of responsibility for, and control over others, their work can be very difficult and physically draining at times. (This applies to managers at every level: directors, company executives, university and college managers, social and health care managers, emergency service managers, police management, psychiatrists, supervisors, teachers, and parents; and many others). Because of this wear and tear, self-care is very important when you are managing people. But so also is the need to take care of the people you manage.
In this blog I’m going to describe a research study which shows how the physical condition of a leader (or manager) can negatively impact the behaviour of their employees, or staff.
The research was conducted by Christopher Barnes, (who is an associate professor of management at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business), with his colleagues Lorenzo Lucianetti, Devasheesh Bhave, and Michael Christian. He summarised the research they had done in an article in the Harvard Business Review in 2014, in an article entitled: “Your abusive boss is probably an insomniac.”
Sleep affects productivity – your own and your team’s
Christopher Barnes’s previous research had investigated the effect in the workplace of the sleep behaviour of the staff, and he had found that sleep was crucial for replenishing people’s ability to control their own behaviour.
He and his colleagues then went on to conduct a field study of 88 leaders and their subordinates. For two weeks, they conducted surveys of leaders at the start of each work day, about the quality of the leader’s sleep on the previous night and the amount of self-control they had over themselves at the point of completing the survey questionnaire.
And for the same period of two weeks, their subordinates completed surveys when they had finished the day’s work, and recorded any abusive supervisor behaviour of their leader (manager) on that day, as well as their own work involvement on the same day. The research was aimed at focussing on the individual leaders, rather than assessing leaders in relation to each other.
Researchers tracked the amount of sleep that the leaders had (their sleep patterns) over a number of weeks. During that time, the reactions and observations of their subordinates to their leader’s performance was carefully recorded. (There was no knowledge, on the part of the workers, of the amount of sleep that their boss was getting, during the course of this research exercise).
Sleep quality and quantity affects leadership ability
The research revealed that, if the supervisor had experienced a poor night’s sleep, this resulted in a more derogatory and disrespectful attitude towards the supervisees the following day.
Lack of restful sleep also led to a reduction in the leader’s ability to self-regulate – (to manage their responses to others constructively). This was described by the employees in their reports of their leader’s behaviour.
Another quite alarming result also occurred: On the days after the leader had a disturbed night’s sleep, the employees – (even if they had nourishing sleep themselves) – were less interested in their work during that day, as a result of the leader’s insomnia, with a consequent lack of productivity. As Matthew Walker commented:
” …it was a chain reaction effect, one in which the lack of sleep in that one superordinate person in a business structure was transmitting on, like a virus, infecting even the well-rested employees with work disengagement and reduced productivity.” (Page 302, Walker. 2017).
Leading, managing and working with others needs energy and stamina, and this research is clear evidence of the vital importance of making sure that people working in management roles get a good night’s sleep (of at least seven to nine hours per night). This will have a really beneficial effect, not only on the manager’s own health, but also on the morale and work performance of the people they are in charge of during the working day, which can only be a very good thing for the organisation as a whole.
But changing habits and altering behaviour isn’t easy, especially when there is strong, social pressure to conform to the patterns of sleep of the people around you. Many managers feel under pressure to over-work and avoid self-care strategies, because of the macho cultures in some organizations. And these macho cultures actually work against the productivity of the organization!
Sorting out your priorities, as a working manager, can be difficult on your own; and being coached within your own organization can simply reinforce the pre-existing macho and self-neglectful culture.
In my chapter on sleep, in Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person, I mentioned some former leaders who harmed their brains (and now we know, also their teams!) through lack of adequate sleep – Thatcher and Reagan being the most notable examples. The current President of the United States boasts that he only takes 5 hours sleep per night. So don’t make the mistake of working for him, folks!
Clearly, you could often benefit from coaching outside your organization on the subject of managing your health and leadership ability by managing your sleep, and other lifestyle factors. This could be one of the best investments of your precious time that you ever make.
The crux of leaderships is this: “Example, example, example!” What kind of example are you currently setting, at home and in work, in terms of self-care, including adequate sleep?
Contact me if you want to be coached on how to manage your energy and increase the quality and quantity of your sleep, so that your working life and home life can be enriched.
Have a good night’s sleep!
The Coaching/Counselling Division
Telephone: 01422 843 629
 Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2014/11/research-your-abusive-boss-is-probably-an-insomniac
 Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker (2017), Allen Lane Publishers.