19 Jun Research: Sleep-Deprived Leaders Are Less Inspiring
Leaders have demanding schedules, and often find themselves trading sleep for more work time – effectively trading away work quality to get more work quantity. Some of my recent research indicates that this idea of compromising quality applies to the concept of leadership as well, with important implications for the performance of your team.
In a previous HBR article, I highlighted how a leader’s poor sleep quality can increase the odds of being a jerk the next day, which in turn decreases team engagement. In this piece, I focus more on the positive side of leadership: charismatic leadership, in which leaders inspire followers, fostering an impression that the leader and the mission are extraordinary. Charismatic leadership is a powerful skill for any leader who wants to increase the performance of their teams.
There are two sides to the charismatic leadership coin: the leader and the follower. In my newest research(conducted with Cristiano L. Guarana, Shazia Nauman, and Dejun Tony Kong), I examine how sleep deprivation can undermine both sides of that coin. Our focus is on the role that emotions play in charismatic leadership.
Previous research indicates that when leaders show their teams positive emotions, it increases the odds that those individuals will also experience positive emotions, which in turn leads them to attribute charisma to their leader. In other words, leaders who smile often tend to have happy and inspired teams.
There are two ways that leaders can display positive emotions; either through the expression of their naturally occurring positive moods, or through a process of managing their emotions to improve their own mood (often by thinking of something happy or distracting one’s self from whatever is making one unhappy). Both can potentially help a leader be more charismatic.
Unfortunately, sleep deprivation undermines both the experience of positive emotion as well as theregulation of emotion. As a result, sleep-deprived leaders are less likely to show positive emotion to their teams, and sleep-deprived team members will be less likely to experience positive emotion. Our hypotheses predicted that sleep deprivation of both leaders and team members can undermine attributions of leader charisma. In other words, sleep-deprived leaders are less inspiring, and sleep-deprived team members are harder to inspire.
My coauthors and I tested these hypotheses with a pair of laboratory experiments. Drawing from the idea of leader communication as a vector for charismatic leadership, in Study 1 (with 88 total participants), we assigned research participants to play the role of a study body leader giving a speech in a commencement ceremony. We gave students time to prepare their speeches, and then recorded them delivering the speech in the laboratory. Half of these students had a normal night of sleep before coming to the study (control condition). We partially sleep deprived the other half, such that they had about two hours less sleep than the participants in the control condition. We then had three evaluators rate the charisma displayed in the speech.
Consistent with our expectations, the sleep-deprived participants were lower in charisma than those in the control condition, and a failure in emotion regulation was a causal factor in the effect. In other words, sleep-deprived leaders are less effective at regulating their displays of positive emotion, and are therefore perceived as less charismatic.
In Study 2, we examined the flip side of the equation. Similar to Study 1, we had a control condition and a partially sleep-deprived condition (with 109 total participants). However, in Study 2, we put the students in the role of being a subordinate to the leader delivering a speech. We then had these participants watch some of the speeches from Study 1, and evaluate the charisma of the speaker. We found that sleep-deprived subordinates were lower in positive emotion, and because of this attributed less charisma to the leader giving the speech. In other words, sleep-deprived subordinates are grumpier and more difficult to inspire.
In sum, we found evidence that sleep-deprived leaders tend to be less charismatic (meaning they will have a harder time inspiring their teams), and sleep-deprived team members attribute less charisma to their leaders (meaning that they are more difficult to inspire).
This is important because many leaders are sleep deprived most of the time. Moreover, leaders often create sleep depriving conditions for the people they lead, such as requiring them to check their smartphones late at night. Thus, many leaders are sabotaging their own ability to effectively lead their teams. The bottom line is this: if you want to inspire, you and the people you lead all need to do your best to get a good night of sleep.