7 steps to nailing it (with your eyes shut): optimising sleep = better leadership

7 steps to nailing it (with your eyes shut): optimising sleep = better leadership

Originally published in Inside HR on August 22nd 2019

There are a number of important steps busy leaders can take to optimise their sleep – which will, in turn, improve a range of factors that make for better quality leaders, writes Stuart Taylor

In today’s globalised, hyper-connected, and “always-on” working culture, many of us are working longer hours with less sleep, compensating for less time in the office with more time in front of screens. Rest is becoming increasingly difficult for the average professional, with a plethora of meditation apps and podcasts to assist us in habitualising relaxation and restoration in our digital lives.

But before we reach for the smartphone yet again, it’s worth revisiting one of the most important relaxation exercises that so many of us fail to do right. That’s getting a good night’s sleep, which seems to be more elusive than ever before.

Sleep deprivation
People need to stop treating their sleep deficit like a professional achievement and instead evaluate how it’s affecting their overall productivity in the workplace. Swapping sleep to send emails late at night shouldn’t be worn as a badge of honour, and it proves only to be a hindrance to your work performance later down the track.

Sleep plays an integral role in how effective you are in a work capacity, your ability to make sound business decisions, and how engaged you are with your colleagues.

As our opportunity to recharge, regroup and establish an efficient mindset for the day ahead, most of us can only tolerate and recover from short periods of sleep deprivation with long-term sleep deficit having negative implications on your ability to perform at work long-term.

“A good night’s sleep will increase alertness, improve memory, allow you to make better decisions, allow you demonstrate a measured response to challenges and better handle stress – all factors that make you a better leader”

Aside from being an invisible contributor to our individual productivity at work and overall health, a study by Deloitte Access Economics health survey found that sleep deprivation costs Australian businesses $17.9 billion a year in lost productivity, with 46 per cent of the world’s sleep-deprived individuals frequently missing work or committing more mistakes in the office than those who practise a good sleep routine.

How much sleep do you need?
While sleep requirements will vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need between 7 to 8 hours per night to function at their best. Yet studies show that 4 out of 10 Australians aren’t getting the sleep they need to get to focus throughout the day.

There are a number of factors that could be causing poor sleep quality, including our obsession with technology and the tendency to face high levels of pressure in our roles at work. But the most successful leaders understand that there is a distinct link between quality sleep and optimal performance, recognising that good sleep routine can be a daily welcome boost to those who continually function at a fast pace and high-performance level.

If you are attempting to work effectively among a fog of ongoing tiredness, you’re tackling a losing battle and your social, emotional and psychological wellbeing will suffer as a result.

If that’s not enough to convince you to push sleep back to the top of your (long) list of priorities, consider the fact that a good night’s sleep will increase alertness, improve memory, allow you to make better decisions, allow you demonstrate a measured response to challenges and better handle stress – all factors that make you a better leader.

“If you are attempting to work effectively among a fog of ongoing tiredness, you’re tackling a losing battle and your social, emotional and psychological wellbeing will suffer as a result”

Tips for establishing quality sleep

  1. Discover your sleep rhythm. Our circadian rhythm ticks away in the background dictating our hormone levels, influencing when we are most productive and when it’s time for us to fall asleep. Over time, you will become aware of the optimal time you need to be in bed.
  2. Digital downtime. The blue light at dawn naturally stimulates our brain to wake up and keeps our biological clock in tune. Blue light, like the screens of phones and laptops, affects your circadian rhythm and makes falling asleep difficult. If you find yourself tossing and turning in bed, try limiting your mobile use an hour before bed, or use blue light filters on your phone. It’s time to reinstate a traditional alarm clock.
  3. Aim for seven to eight hours a night. Regularly sleeping less than six hours a night puts you at risk of ongoing productivity problems.
  4. Consistency. Commit to a strict wake-up time seven days a week. If you know you have to wake up at 7am during the week, sleeping in on the weekend effectively jetlags you, making your Monday morning wake-up even more challenging. Sleeping also affects heart health – evidence shows that Monday mornings have the highest incidence of heart attacks due to this.
  5. Don’t drink coffee past 2.00pm. While a late afternoon coffee may revive you in the short term, it will impact your ability to fall asleep quickly. For a 3pm pick me up, opt for a protein snack or a healthy smoothie instead.
  6. Avoid eating too close to bedtime. Eating too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep, mostly because it stimulates stomach acid production. If you’re really craving a late-night snack, try a bowl of cereal with milk or cheese and crackers. These types of foods are rich in minerals, such as tryptophan and calcium, which helps promote sleep.
  7. Put your work aside before you to go to bed. Ruminating about work won’t help anything, and there comes a point in the day where you are no longer productive. Mindfulness practices and other stress-reduction techniques such as breathing, and meditation are helpful for learning how to relax your body and mind before bed.

Written by Stuart Taylor

How you can increase your Emotional Capital as a Leader

How you can increase your Emotional Capital as a Leader

Originally published in Forbes on August 29th 2019

By now, you’ve probably heard of emotional intelligence. But have you ever heard of “emotional capital?”


According to researcher Robert K. Cooper, Ph.D., “Emotional intelligence is the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of energy, information, connection, and influence.”

Emotional capital (EK), however, is the make-up of all the skills and abilities that allow you to understand your own emotions, to recognize them in others, and to function with other people in a perceptive and rewarding manner.

Think of it as the ability to empathize with other people and to effectively communicate with them, leading you to develop and enhance strong, effective relationships. Emotional capital is the foundation on which all motivational and decision making leadership skills are based. Defined by the French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, it is “the set of resources that inhere to the person, useful for personal, professional and organizational development, and participates [in] social cohesion, with personal, economic and social returns.”

EK is absolutely essential to leadership success. Self-awareness, empathy and assertiveness are prerequisites for building your own EK.

There are several competencies that make up emotional capital. Some of them include:

1. Self-esteem

2. Self-regulation

3. Self-motivation

4. Self-reliance

5. Relational agility

6. Optimism

Think of learning these competencies as a way of making “deposits” into your emotional capital account. These deposits will later be effectively spent in your quest to become the best leader you can be. Emotional capital is built over time and sustained by consistency. It is a booster for human, social and cultural capitals. You can help make emotional capital more useful and beneficial by thinking about ways to generate more of it, as well as ways in which it can be advantageously spent.

Let’s look at these competencies through the lens of emotional intelligence and discuss how you can increase them.

Self-esteem is your emotional evaluation of your self-worth, which is formed by beliefs and values within. You increase your self-esteem by accomplishing your short and long-term goals. These successes, no matter how small, all go toward increasing your confidence in yourself and your ability to operate successfully in the world.

Self-regulation is your ability to calibrate and control undesirable behavior. By being aware that there is an emotion rooted in unwanted behavior, you can address that root cause directly rather than dealing with the more superficial result (undesirable behavior). You are able to replace the undesirable behavior with something more beneficial.

Self-motivation is the emotional energy that pushes you outside your comfort zone, creates changes and motivates enthusiastic action. The best way to increase self-motivation is through inspiring self-talk and achievable goal-setting.

Self-reliance is the confidence to rely on your own abilities. It calls on you to make the best possible decision using all available emotional data. You increase your self-reliance by evaluating the best and the worst-case scenarios with flexibility and impulse-control management.

Relational agility refers to an empathetic “win-win” approach with openly communicated boundaries. The way to increase relational agility is to listen from a place of curiosity, emotional flexibility and mutual respect, rather than from a place of viewing situations as simple, isolated transactions. In other words, you need to delve into the complexities of things rather than just accepting them as presented.

Optimism is a positive emotional outlook that everything will be OK instead of worrying and thinking with a “glass-half-empty” attitude.

Increasing your emotional capital is just like depositing into a savings account. The more you deposit, the more you can take out. Relationships function exactly the same way. If instead of withdrawing emotions, you deposit them, you will get them back but multiplied. Remember, relationships are an essential component of your well-being and happiness.

Svetlana Whitener

Mindfulness In The Age Of Remote Work Communications

Mindfulness In The Age Of Remote Work Communications

Originally published in Forbes.com on August 19th 2019

“When I move half as fast, I notice twice as much,” says psychologist and mindfulness teacher Dr. Tara Brach. It’s a truth we’ve all experienced in one way or another, often when it’s forced upon us by life circumstances. Brach shared one such insight in a talk earlier this year when she described a new mother who was diagnosed with cancer and not given much time to live. The mother’s mantra became “I have no time to rush.” It was her way of savoring every last drop of her life.

These quotes can serve as a reminder of the benefits of slowing down to wake up, of the timeless and practical wisdom in this line from The Provincial Letters by Blaise Pascal: “The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter.”

But how can the lessons of mindfulness be applied to workplace communications in the “fail fast and break things” culture of many startups, including those that are increasingly embracing remote work?

First, it’s important to note that mindfulness has become a buzzword and even spawned a thriving McMindfulness industry, where it’s often used in the workplace for “subduing employee unrest, promoting a tacit acceptance of the status quo and as an instrumental tool for keeping attention focused on institutional goals.”

With that realization out of the way, let’s establish a shared understanding of how we’re defining mindfulness.


What’s the definition of mindfulness?

Mindfulness definitions vary slightly across disciplines and speakers, but the thread remains the same. Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, considered by many to be a pioneering figure in bringing mindfulness to the West, describes it as “the capacity to be aware of what is going on.”

Having attended a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, I can attest that this “what is going on” applies and can extend to everything. When sipping tea, for example, it could mean being aware of the bodily sensations that arise with each sip and having gratitude for every element of the tea’s long journey to your cup.

Another definition comes from the American Psychological Association, which defines mindfulness as “a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait. While it might be promoted by certain practices or activities, such as meditation, it is not equivalent to or synonymous with them.”

With those definitions as our base, here are a few practical ways to bring mindfulness into your remote work communications.

1. Choose the medium that maximizes human intelligence.

This advice comes from a recent workshop by Dr. Donald Rothberg. During a conversation about how best to communicate with colleagues in increasingly digital environments, Rothberg explained that it’s critical to step back, consider the context of our communication and then choose the medium that gives us the best chance to establish a human connection.

If, for example, you typically use a workplace chat tool for quick back-and-forth dialogue on tasks, consider upgrading to an audio conversation or, better yet (and if both parties are comfortable with it), a video call for longer or more important matters. These upgrades can create a more mindful environment because they bring the nuances of voice and natural human contact into the picture.

I’ve recently “upgraded” from audio to video calls with a public relations firm my company works with and, even after just two weeks, I feel our overall relationship has improved dramatically.

2. Give the speaker your full awareness.

Productivity can come to a grinding halt when, for example, one party “ghosts” the other in a workplace chat app. This occurs for a variety of reasons, often because one colleague has been interrupted by a human-to-human interaction with another colleague, or because one is trying to juggle multiple chat conversations.

“Ghosting” isn’t likely to happen on video chats, but other challenges can arise, such as one colleague typing to someone else when the other is talking, or when one gives the other the “profile view.”

The profile view occurs when one colleague has two monitors and is looking into a webcam that doesn’t correspond to the one the other colleague is looking through. I’ve found that this break in eye contact can, in subtle but powerful ways, make one colleague feel as though they aren’t receiving the full attention they deserve.

3. Set your best intention before conversations.

This is especially helpful for managers whose schedules are often booked in 30-minute blocks, but it applies to most meaningful remote work communications. Before jumping on a call, take a few moments to mentally check in with yourself. Becoming aware of your emotional state, for example, can help ensure that frustration from a previous and potentially unrelated situation doesn’t spill into your upcoming conversation.

At my home office, I have a Post-it note on the wall above my desk that says, “What’s your best intention?” Before calls — and sometimes even briefly during calls — I’ll glance up at it as a reminder to bring my best, most helpful self to the conversation. On many occasions, this small reminder has helped me be a more mindful communicator, particularly during those moments when I catch myself listening more to respond or give advice than to truly listen.

Mindfulness, though it’s a practice and a state that can lead to personal realization, is also a critical communication component for high-performance teams working remotely. As Harvard professor Robert Kegan wrote(subscription required) about two companies he analyzed, “The quest for business excellence and the search for personal realization need not be mutually exclusive — and can, in fact, be essential to each other.”

By Cameron Conaway

Do You Listen to Your Employees Enough?

Do You Listen to Your Employees Enough?

When people are dissatisfied at work, they can feel as though they have two choices: quit or voice their concerns.

Organizations can prevent turnover and retain more employees by creating work environments in which people want to choose the latter.

One way to help employees feel heard is to regularly conduct anonymous surveys that allow them to give feedback on various aspects of their roles. When people can speak up about their frustrations without facing consequences for it, managers can gain valuable insights into what their employees want and need.

Share the results of these surveys with the leadership team; you may want to address common concerns in a companywide offsite or team meetings. It’s also important for managers to show employees they are acting on prominent issues.

You may not be able to solve every problem or fix every dissatisfaction, but demonstrating that you’re willing to listen is a good step toward improving work for everyone.

Harvard Business Review

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Four Of The Worst Leadership Errors And How To Correct Them

Four Of The Worst Leadership Errors And How To Correct Them

No one comes to work with the idea that they are going to screw things up. As executives, we start each day with the best of intentions: Today will be a better day than yesterday. 

Today we will move something forward and feel proud of our expended energy and the results we produced. We do everything we can to avoid making mistakes.

And still, there are four errors you might be making—you just might not know it. We call them “The Four Errors of an Executive”:

1.    Assuming you know more than others.

2.    Acting like you are the authority.

3.    Playing it safe.

4.    Believing that you have to sacrifice your personal life for the company’s good.

Let’s take them one at a time and see if you are making any of them.

Error Number One: Assuming you know more than others.

Chances are, you have risen to a position of authority through both experience and tenure; this isn’t your first rodeo. And to be sure, having a breadth and depth of experience and wisdom counts for a lot. However, a kind of arrogance, or something like it, can set in.


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Leaders Focus Too Much on Changing Policies, and Not Enough on Changing Minds

Leaders Focus Too Much on Changing Policies, and Not Enough on Changing Minds

Business transformations are typically built around new structural elements, including policies, processes, facilities, and technology. Some companies also focus on behaviors — defining new practices, training new skills, or asking employees for new deliverables.

Not long ago, I asked 100 CEOs attending a conference how many of them were currently involved in a significant business transformation. Nearly all of them raised their hands, which was no surprise. According to a study by BCG, 85% of companies have undertaken a transformation during the past decade.


The same research found that nearly 75% of those transformations fail to improve business performance, either short-term or long-term.


So why is transformation so difficult to achieve?


Among many potential explanations, one that gets very little attention may be the most fundamental: the invisible fears and insecurities that keep us locked into behaviors even when we know rationally that they don’t serve us well. Add to that the anxiety that nearly all human beings experience in the face of change.

Nonetheless, most organizations pay far more attention to strategy and execution than they do to what their people are feeling and thinking when they’re asked to embrace a transformation. Resistance, especially when it is passive, invisible, and unconscious, can derail even the best strategy.


Business transformations are typically built around new structural elements, including policies, processes, facilities, and technology. Some companies also focus on behaviors — defining new practices, training new skills, or asking employees for new deliverables.


What most organizations typically overlook is the internal shift — what people think and feel — which has to occur in order to bring the strategy to life. This is where resistance tends to arise — cognitively in the form of fixed beliefs, deeply held assumptions and blind spots; and emotionally, in the form of the fear and insecurity that change engenders. All of this rolls up into our mindset, which reflects how we see the world, what we believe and how that makes us feel.


The result is that transforming a business also depends on transforming individuals — beginning with the most senior leaders and influencers. Few of them, in our experience, have spent much time observing and understanding their own motivations, challenging their assumptions, or pushing beyond their intellectual and emotional comfort zones. The result is something that the psychologists Lisa Lahey and Robert Kegan have termed “immunity to change.”


We first ran up against the power of mindset two decades ago when we began to make a case inside organizations that rest and renewal are essential for sustaining high performance. The scientific evidence we presented to clients was compelling. Nearly all of them found the concept persuasive and appealing, both logically and intuitively. We taught them very simple strategies to build renewal into their lives, and they left our workshops eager to change the way they worked.


Nonetheless, most of them struggled with changing their behavior when they got back to their jobs. They continued to equate continuous work and long hours with success. Taking time to renew during work days made them feel as if they were slacking. Even when organizations built nap rooms, they often went unused. People worried that if they rested at all, they wouldn’t get their work done, and above all, they feared failing. Despite their best intentions, many of them eventually defaulted back to their habitual patterns.


More recently, we worked with the senior team of a large consumer product company which had been severely disrupted by smaller, more agile online competitors selling their services directly to consumers. On its face, the team was aligned, focused, and committed to a new multi-faceted strategy with a strong digital component. But when we looked at the team’s mindset more deeply, we discovered that they shared several underlying beliefs including, “Everything we do is equally important,” “More is always better,” and “It has to be perfect or we don’t do it.” They summarized these beliefs in a single sentence: “If we don’t keep running as hard as we can, and attend to every detail, everything will fall apart.”


Not surprisingly, the leaders found they were spreading themselves too thin, struggling to pull the trigger on new initiatives, and feeling exhausted. Simply surfacing these costs and their consequences proved highly valuable and motivating. We also launched several initiatives to address these issues individually and collectively.


One of the most successful began with a simple exercise aimed at helping the leaders to define their three highest priorities. Then we took them through a structured exercise including delving into their calendars to assess whether they were using their time to best advantage, including setting aside time for renewal. This process prompted them to examine more consciously why they were working in self-defeating ways.


We also developed an online site where leaders agreed to regularly share their progress on prioritizing, as well as any feelings of resistance that were arising, and how they managed them. Their work is ongoing, but among the most common feelings people reported were liberation and relief. Their worst fears failed to materialize.


Several factors typically hold mindset in place. The first is that much of it gets deeply rooted early in our lives. Over time we tend to develop confirmation bias, forever seeking evidence that reinforces what we already believe, and downplaying or dismissing what doesn’t. We’re also designed, both genetically and instinctively, to put our own safety first, and to avoid taking too much risk. Rather than using our capacity for critical thinking to assess new possibilities, we often co-opt our prefrontal cortex to rationalize choices that were actually driven by our emotions.


All this explains why the most effective transformation begins with what’s going on inside people — and especially the most senior leaders, given their disproportionate authority and influence.  Their challenge is to deliberately turn attention inward in order to begin noticing the fixed patterns in their thinking, how they’re feeing in any given moment, and how quickly the instinct for self-preservation can overwhelm rationality and a longer term perspective, especially when the stakes are high.


Leaders also have an outsize impact on the collective mindset — meaning the organizational culture. As they begin to change the way they think and feel, they’re more able to model new behaviors and communicate to others more authentically and persuasively. Even employees highly resistant to change tend to follow their leaders, simply because most people prefer to fit in, rather than stick out.


Ultimately, personal transformation requires the courage to challenge one’s current comfort zone, and to tolerate that discomfort without overreacting. One of the most effective tools, we’ve found is a series of provocative questions we ask leaders and their teams to build a practice around asking themselves:


“What am I not seeing?

“What else is true?”

“What is my responsibility in this situation?”

“How is my perspective being influenced by my fears?”


Great strategy remains foundational to transformation, but successful execution also requires surfacing and continuously addressing the invisible reasons that people and cultures so often resist changing, even when the way they’re working isn’t working.


Harvard Business Review- By Tony Schwartz 

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