As leaders of our own start up business we do our best to model the behaviours we want to be a part of the culture of our business. As a business built around a vision of strengthening Mental Fitness for more and more people around the world we aim to be role models for the change we hope to see.
One of the areas where we find this hardest to achieve is in modelling best practice around sleep.
Sleep is one of the fundamental pillars of Mental Fitness. As more and more research emerges around the benefits of sleep to our health, resilience, wellbeing and productivity our own understanding of the importance of this aspect of our (and our organisation’s) Mental Fitness has grown. The growing awareness about the importance of sleep feels really positive and many of the books and articles that have contributed to the changing narrative about sleep in recent years have really inspired us.
That doesn’t mean changing behaviour is easy. We run a fast growing start up business. We come from leadership backgrounds where long hours, late nights and challenging travel schedules were part of the corporate cultures our careers developed in. The idea that we can work now and sleep later is quite deeply embedded in our personal psychologies and behaviour.
So there is a paradox. There is more and more evidence that sleep is vital for our Mental Fitness. But it’s tough changing behaviour. Even when you’re a leader in a Mental Fitness business!
Paradoxes like that can be a source of huge potential. And resolving them is exactly what leadership should be about. So we set ourselves that challenge. How can we go from, if not exactly sleep avoiders, then certainly too often sleep pretenders (pretending we get enough when actually we probably don’t), to being fully fledged sleep leaders?
We’re very much at the beginning of our journey in understanding this ourselves and we’ll share more about our own sleep journeys as we progress along the road to sleep leadership. But here are a few initial thoughts about what helps in becoming a sleep leader (and an organisation powered by better sleep).
- Measure your sleep (accurately). Our Cognosis profiling tool includes sleep as one of its foundational measures. We profile ourselves and our organisation regularly. It wasn’t until a) starting to read more about the importance of sleep and b) using a sleep tracker to find out more about it, that we realised that we had been somewhat overestimating the amount of sleep being achieved, whilst perhaps rather underestimating its performance impact. Data is often a powerful catalyst for beginning to change and this was no exception!
- Get coaching support. As with most things that have helped us with our own self development and abilities as leaders, exploring the role of sleep for our Mental Fitness and resilience in the safe space of transformational coaching helped us significantly. Firstly by helping us acknowledge its importance and help us both to make connections between our sleep patterns and our everyday performance and fluctuating levels of resilience, focus and effectiveness. And secondly by allowing us to recognise that the self care involved in better sleep isn’t some kind of indulgence or “weakness”. It’s the opposite. It’s an investment in both ourselves and our business.
- Get sleep support. Once we’d recognised sleep as a priority for our personal development in our regular transformational coaching sessions we worked with one of our specialist sleep coaches to develop sleep strategies that would work for us. Some of the early strategies we tried to improve our sleep actually felt counterproductive. They felt like we were having to try so hard at them that we actually ended up feeling more stressed and sleeping less. Working with a sleep coach actually helped us discover that better sleep had as much to do with daytime behaviours like walking and fresh air as well as small changes to our evening eating and screen routines as they did with actions around bed itself.
- Share the journey. One of the biggest challenges we faced as we approached better sleep was overcoming long established attitudes about long working hours and ‘burning the midnight oil’ as signifiers of success and performance. Letting this perspective go actually became much easier as a group effort. Sharing the journey allowed us to relinquish the sense that we may be ‘letting each other down’ and to gain confidence from each other that we actually performed better with good sleep.
- Become a sleep role model. It’s early days for this. We are only just getting to a place where we feel like we could describe ourselves as ‘sleep leaders’. But even at this point where we have further to go on our own sleep journeys being able to feel like we are modelling behaviour, sharing our experiences and encouraging others to use sleep as part of strengthening their own Mental Fitness is both satisfying and visibly leading to improved morale and performance in our teams.
Want to take this further?
Do you want to gain insight into personal transformation? Do you want to learn how your own Mental Fitness can be the framework for understanding how you can develop greater self-awareness and grow in your own capability and resilience?
Or, if you play a role in your organisation’s development and that of those who work with you and their Mental Fitness, we’d love to talk.