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Snoozing on the Job

Should leaders pay more attention to the quality and quantity of their sleep?


This is the second in what might become an occasional series. It’s mostly come about because so many of my coaching clients are mentioning issues around health and wellbeing at work and in how it impacts their leadership. Perhaps it’s just that I’m writing in the winter-time. Nevertheless, with so many people of all ages and experience levels, and in different working sectors mentioning it, there might be something worth giving at least a little attention to. (Click here for my ‘Wellbeing’ tag to read related articles)


How well do you sleep?

And how does the quality of your sleep affect your ability to lead and function at work?

I’m convinced that way back in the mists of time, one of my ancestors volunteered our whole family to be the nighttime guardians of our tribe. We would stay up into the small hours of darkness, patrolling the borders, bravely investigating the slightest sound and, whilst watching the stars at about 4am, have the kind of interesting ideas that would really get our pulse racing.

Nowadays, that’s still a pattern that I can fall into, even when I don’t want to. And it makes me really, really tired in the daytime!

I noticed that being tired when I was trying to work had an impact that was way out of all proportion. I would miss the signals that a colleague needed my support. I would fail to spot that we were about to make a bad decision at the board. And I would produce poor-quality work that often needed revision.

My productivity, health and relationships in and out of work, all suffered. So I decided to do something about it, and got curious about what helps people sleep (and what doesn’t).

For lots of us, especially those who aren’t exactly ill, but maybe just aren’t as well as we’d like, sleep seems to be right at the heart of that wellness. If sleep is wrong, it can seem especially difficult to make improvements in any other aspects of our wellbeing and in our ability to deliver everything we want to.

So I thought I’d do a little research.

Good grief! – there is an awful lot of writing and stuff about this (there are even Sleep Coaches – see this link!). I don’t think I want to add too much to all of that writing. In part, because it’s not my area and also because what worked for me, may not be the same for you.

In terms of what currently makes a real difference to my own sleep though, there’s a few things I can’t help wanting to mention because their positive impact is so high.

Don’t take these as a solution for your own sleep needs. Rather, see them as a jumping-off point for your own experimentation. Here’s my current sleep-assisting strategy:

  1. Ban electronics from the bedroom. I joined the library and only read paper-based books in bed now. I got a stand-alone alarm clock (no-tick and with a read-out that can go entirely black). I also got a notebook for all my great 3-4am ideas.
  2. Get up at the same time as often as possible.
  3. Don’t eat after 8pm. At all.
  4. If you feel a late night coming on, try a herbal tea at bedtime, especially anything with valerian in it
  5. Have a very slick productivity process, especially something that is good at quickly and easily capturing your “To-Do’s”. I’ve written before how I’m a big ‘Getting Things Done’ (GDT) fan (see this non-affiliate link), and I’ve also used paper and app-based systems to help implement that. I currently use an IoS/Mac-only app called Things – see here

In the end, most of the useful stuff I got came from just a couple of different sources, both of which are also good reading around the subject:

  • An article in The Guardian featuring the work of Hugh Selsick, a South African psychiatrist who runs the Insomnia Clinic in Bloomsbury – see this link;
  • An article from the slighty batty but dedicatedly self-experimental Tim Ferriss, which at the time of writing was still available here – and if that link no longer works, google: “tim ferriss 5-tools-for-better-sleep.pdf”.

It’d be great to know about your own sleep patterns and how or if tiredness affects you at work – and what you’ve done or are doing about it. As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach.


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Health and Work

Well-being has a huge impact on success at work. Can you be physically and emotionally healthy and hold down a demanding job?

Modern working life seems to make it tough to be healthy physically.

I’m struck by how many of my clients are dealing with poor-ish health. They’re often carrying minor health issues that haven’t been (or can’t really be permanently) ‘fixed’. They suffer from problems caused by sitting around in front of a screen all day, from long hours and the impact this has on diet, from emotional eating and drinking in response to the stresses and strains of demanding jobs, and from frequent coughs and sneezes.

And I write this, as it happens just a few days away from the shortest, darkest day of the year, when dealing with those health-related issues seems harder than ever.


I know these are all “first-world” problems really.

In the scheme of things, my bad back, caused by such a sedentary working day, is just a minor niggle. Yes, I can get a bit snappy and do tend to take the worry home with me if I’ve had a particularly stressful day. And yes, the coffee I’m chugging all day to raise enough energy to get through the afternoon does make me sleep poorly, but at least I’ve got somewhere safe and warm to sleep – it isn’t really such a big issue, is it?

Except it is a big issue really.

In a big picture sense, it’s an important issue because in the UK just those factors of stress, anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders account for around 20 million lost working days every year (HSE link).

On a more individual level, I think it’s also a big issue, because poor physical health and un-managed stress have such a huge impact on emotional well-being. And emotional well-being is the key to the self-awareness and good relationship-management that actually drives so much of our success (or otherwise) at work.

As Bruce Lee famously said:

You cannot poor from an empty cup.

If our physical and emotional reserves are low, our interactions with colleagues will be less effective and our work will suffer.


Not all of my clients are dealing with poor-ish health though. Some put a lot into maintaining their health and do it very successfully. And of those who do carry health conditions that will aways need managing, some manage them very well indeed.

My own health and emotional well-being seems to go up and down in long phases. I can have many years where I’m cycling or running regularly, eating healthily and living a well-balanced life, and then something happens to knock that off course and it might take a couple of years for me to get it back on track again.

I don’t know what the key to the physical side of all this is.

Having read about and trained with and followed a number of regimes, I still couldn’t say “Here are the seven steps to psychical well-being” with anything like certainty.

I do know that for me, changing things for the better has often involved quite small starts – deciding to go out for 20 minute walk at lunchtime no matter the weather, for example. Or just mentioning I was feeling physically drained to a friend resulting in an unexpected invitation to a long-distance bike ride – with enough time to train for it!

Actually, maybe those are part of the key:

  • Do something small; and
  • Reach out and ask for help.

What’s your experience been – how’s your health and well-being; does it have an impact on your ‘success’ at work; how did you change your health for the better?


My instinct is that this is such a big issue that I should reach out myself to a few people I know and get some more about this up on my website – watch this space.

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. And be healthy.


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Leadership and Physical Intelligence

How’s your Physical Intelligence – and how does this affect your ability to lead others?

I’ve long been interested in the idea of different types of intelligence. The developmental psychologist Howard Gardener described eight “modalities” of intelligence (which he later expanded to include two more), one of which is ‘Bodily-kinesthetic’ intelligence:

Gardner describes this as control of one’s physical movement and the capacity to handle objects skilfully. This also includes a sense of timing, a clear sense of the goal of a physical action, along with the ability to train responses. He believes that people who have high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are generally good at physical activities such as sports, dance, acting, and making things.

Click here to see Gardner’s book on Amazon (not an affiliate link).

Whether or not you believe it’s actually an ‘Intelligence’, you’ve probably been around people who are really great at using their bodies. They can hit a tennis ball right by you without seeming to try. Or they can insert a needle into a worried patient’s arm in one easy motion. Or they can make great choices about their own physical health, in a way that sustains them really well.
What other kinds of physical intelligence or smartness have you noticed in yourself or others?

I learned from studying Emotional Intelligence, that you can think about each of your own intelligences as having two components:

First, a ‘Capacity‘. This is like the limit of your own intelligence (whether it’s Intellectual, Emotional or Physical etc). For some aspects of each of those intelligences, research suggests that your capacity is fixed – that is, it can’t be increased. What you’re born with may be what you’re stuck with. For other aspects, your capacity can be increased – you can stretch the limit and develop new capacities.

Second, there’s a ‘Utilisation‘. This is how much you use your current capacity. If you want to improve your intelligence, be it Intellectual, Emotional or Physical etc, making sure you’re actually already using all that you can use is probably the best place to start.

As I get older and my body stops taking care of itself quite as automatically as it did when I was younger, I’ve become more interested in aspects of physical intelligence. I’m lucky to have a wide spread of ages and occupations and interests amongst my coaching clients, so this is something I often just get a little curious about with them. What do they do to take care of themselves physically? How does their physical being impact on their presence as a leader? Are there links for them (as the evidence seems to suggest) between their physical intelligence and their emotional resilience?


If I bring to mind a dozen or so people I know really well who I’d regard as great leaders, it seems pretty clear to me that they have a good range of several of Gardner’s Intelligence Modalities. They’re smart people and they’ve worked at that. They are good at building relationships with others and they’ve worked at that too. And they all do something to maintain or even increase the utilisation of their own physical capacity.


What’s also interesting for me, is the range of things that these leaders do to utilise their physical being. There’s all the middle-aged cyclists of course. And there are swimmers and runners and tennis players and footballers and hikers and so on. But then there are also dancers and yoga practitioners and tai-chi masters and Nia movers and Five Rhythms people. The range of things that people do to be in great relationship with their bodies is huge.

This is not just about “fitness” – although being fit certainly seems to be part of Physical Intelligence. It’s more than just that though; it’s also about being aligned with and being fully part of our physical being, our bodies, as well as our mental and emotional existence. Without that, it’s hard to be a complete person – which is another important aspect of being a great leader.


It also seems to me that people who have a good relationship with their own bodies are more confident in their dealings with others, are less likely to get hijacked by their own knee-jerk responses and are generally happier and therefore more pleasant to be around.


What’s your view? Does your physical intelligence have anything at all to do with your ability to lead others, or to be successful in your work?

What’s the key? If you believed that physical intelligence IS important to leadership and general success at work and in life, and you wanted to improve your own where should you start?

In my personal experience, it’s all too easy to make this difficult. In the past I’ve managed to fill my own attempts to get physically smarter with all kinds of unhelpful beliefs about how much ‘should’ be possible for me. Or about how I need to keep the shambolic, beginner stages private. Or I’ve even fallen into the ‘no pain, no gain’ trap!

If we reflect back on my earlier points about Capacity and Utilisation, we’re actually talking about learning new stuff here – even if, in this case, it’s our bodies that are doing the learning. And the best learning is messy, playful, gentle and spontaneous.

Is that the way to improved physical intelligence?


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Productivity and Moral Self-Licensing

One (more) reason why people don’t straight-away do what they’ve said they would – and what to do about it

If you’ve ever been in a long meeting where lots of actions where agreed, and then found yourself wondering why people haven’t followed-through on those actions – or if you’ve ever spent a fair bit of time and effort making a to-do list yourself, only to then bunk-off instead of actually getting on with it – then you might find this useful.

In simple terms, Moral Self-Licensing is when people unconsciously allow themselves to indulge after they’ve done something positive.

Research suggests that it affects individual behaviour in a variety of contexts, including: consumer purchases, political opinions, charitable giving, energy policy, job hiring, racial attitudes, health-related decision-making, risky sexual behavior, alcohol consumption and diet.

In terms of productivity, the influence of Moral Self-Licensing is likely to mean a slump in achieving things between the planning and the doing stages. My experience with individual and team clients is that the effect is particularly pronounced when:

  • The issues that people were agreeing upon or planning actions for were especially difficult or threatening to address. This means that they feel unusually positive about having finally got down to addressing them and are (unconsciously) more likely to give themselves moral self-license to be ‘indulgent’ afterwards;
  • Physical energy levels are low and/or have been lowered by the planning or to-do-listing activities (especially likely when long journeys or stodgy meals are involved I suspect). I don’t know if there’s research to support this, but I’ve often thought that low energy levels are likely to reduce the threshold for moral self-license, since our mind/body systems are designed to look after our short-term survival and to prioritise food and rest now.

So what can you do if you notice that there’s a productivity slump between the planning and the action stages?

  1. Plan for it
    Since the tendency to be indulgent after we’ve done something positive is such a widespread and unconscious phenomena, it makes sense to me to expect it to happen. When you’ve had people in meetings and you all agree on a list of actions, why not explicitly agree an ‘indulgency period’ during which nobody is required to actually do anything productive until they’ve given themselves a treat of some kind;
  2. Actively be Rested and Healthy
    If it’s true that the productivity slump caused by moral self-license is more pronounced when people are already tired, then we can prepare for that by taking active steps to be properly rested and healthy. Less coffee and more naps, perhaps?
  3. Delegate
    Have somebody who wasn’t at the meeting, and who therefore won’t be experiencing their own moral self-license indulgence (at least, not yet), be responsible for reminding about, chasing and/or kick-starting the actions;
  4. Organise
    Make sure that your meetings, your decision-making-processes and the techniques you use to organise actions are as effective and as frictionless as possible. Consider using trained facilitators to help design agendas and processes. The less this feels like an effort, the less likely people are to indulge afterwards;
  5. Don’t Procrastinate
    The longer you put-off or fail to address difficult issues and tasks, the more you’re unconsciously likely to feel that you deserve an indulgence after you finally get around to deciding to do something about them.

 

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