Before you read this or any other article on leadership or coaching success, go for a walk. You can’t give good feedback, inspire others, facilitate new ideas, or strategize your way out of a paper bag if your brain and body aren’t functioning well. No matter how smart you are, your stressed biology will sabotage your success as a performer and a leader.
I recently had a company hire me to increase the emotional intelligence of their leaders because the employees were stressed, making mistakes, losing business, and arguing more than helping each other. It was hard for me to make appointments with the leaders because they were so busy. I quickly learned there was an unspoken expectation that all employees, especially the leaders, be “always on.” One leader told me, “Until we get out of this crisis, things like relaxing and family time will have to wait.”
What the leaders didn’t understand is that the ability to act with emotional intelligence is impaired by sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, noise pollution, excessive conflict, money problems and a shortage of friends.
Nothing I say, or any other tips you read in leadership books and articles, will work for you if you don’t rigidly take care of yourself.
Working harder can hurt your success
The lack of sleep alone blunts your ability to see the positive side of situations. According to the studies cited in Tori Rodriguez’s article, Why Sleep Deprivation Makes You Crabby, the lack of sleep not only triggers you to overreact to annoyances, you lose the ability to react with positive feelings to good events. It’s nearly impossible to be compassionate, encouraging, and optimistic when you are tired.
Then there are the contagious effects of stress. Not only are humans designed to pick up and feel negative emotions, according to social dominance research whatever the leader feels will have the greatest effect on the people in the room. If you are angry, agitated or disappointed, other people will take on your negativity and uncertainty. They will become anxious, defensive or shut down even if they came into the room feeling good.
Poor eating habits come at a cost to the brain. Gastrointestinal inflammation from a diet of processed foods are tied to depression, lethargy and other mental disorders.
Studies have demonstrated the negative effects of worrying about money and of having few or no friends to talk to when problems arise. On the flip side, spending time with friends doing enjoyable activities gives your body and brain the recovery time it needs to re-energize.
What you can do now
Although it’s unlikely that the pace or intensity of work will change anytime soon, you can take steps to strengthen your personal foundation so when you try to implement leadership techniques, you increase your chances of success.
- Disconnect. The McKinsey Quarterly suggests that “always-on, multitasking work environments are killing productivity, dampening creativity, and making us unhappy.” What can you do to totally disconnect from work? Focusing on fun, being alert to the gifts of the moment, and caring for others outside of work in a way that makes you feel good can help.
- Be mindful of your eating and exercise. Kim Scott, who teaches the power of Radical Candor, says that she realized the most important thing she could do for her employees was to go for a run every morning. “You can’t possibly give a damn about other people if you don’t give a damn about yourself,” Scott says. Success starts with eating well, regularly exercising, and making sure you get a good night’s sleep.
- Call a friend. Biologically, when you socially connect with another person, you activate the brain regions that improve health and increase creativity. Having a good friend to call is a major stress release. Just be sure you talk about and do things that make you happy and laugh. Don’t just find people who will commiserate with you. If you don’t have friends to readily call on, look to connect with people in your professional associations, in classes at your local universities and colleges, and even at your gym.
- Model and encourage well-being practices. While stress can be contagious, the converse is also true: your well-being and optimism will spread to others. Share what you are doing to uplift your energy and mood. Encourage others take time for exercise and other renewal activities, and make sure calendars aren’t packed so tightly that no one has time to breathe. Build buffer time into schedules so people can work at a manageable pace.
Bottom line, when you are healthy and happy you enable higher performance, engagement, and creative thinking. Take care of yourself and encourage others to do this as well to improve success at work and in life.
If you would like to have me speak at your upcoming event or talk about leadership training and coaching, please reach to me at: https://outsmartyourbrain.com/contact/
tel:+1 602 954 9030