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LeBron James

How to Get Better Sleep and Be a Better Leader

Sleep is the best meditation.

–– The Dalai Lama

With the holidays and New Year approaching, it's a good time to ask, are you getting enough sleep?
If you’re like most people, particularly our high-achieving readers, the answer is likely to be “no.” And that’s not good -- for you, your team, your family or the economy.
You see there’s been this cultural myth, lived out by success-oriented people, that working harder and sleeping less are signs of our mental and physical toughness.
This myth is contradicted by the stark scientific evidence of the harmful effects of lack of sleep.

Harmful effects
As the Harvard Medical School Bulletin notes, in the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. 
In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.
I’m not pointing fingers here since I’m as guilty as the next over-achiever. I’m working hard to improve my own sleep deficits.
Better sleep, better workplace
Other research confirms the negative effects of sleep loss on leaders and their teams in the workplace. A McKinsey study found a direct link between effective leadership and getting enough sleep:
In a study of 81 organizations and 189,000 people around the world, we found that four types of leadership behavior are most commonly associated with high-quality executive teams: operating with a strong orientation to results, solving problems effectively, seeking out different perspectives, and supporting others.
What’s striking in all four cases is the proven link between sleep and effective leadership, McKinsey reported. This applies to CEOs and leaders at every level.

‘Abusive’ Leader Behavior 
Even more striking, a recent Harvard Business Review article summarized the harmful effects on employees by leaders who don’t get proper sleep:
…Recent research indicates that individual behavior can vary dramatically from day to day and week to week—and much of this variance can be explained by the quality of a manager’s sleep. Indeed, studies have found that when leaders show up for work unrested, they are more likely to lose patience with employees, act in abusive ways, and be seen as less charismatic. There is also a greater likelihood that their subordinates will themselves suffer from sleep deprivation—and even behave unethically(My emphasis added)
This is why there is a growing recognition amongst leaders that they must get more sleep themselves and promote policies in their organizations to encourage their employees to get more sleep.  
Progressive policies adopted by organizations include companies with sleep pods for napping; limiting emails from leaders overnight and on weekends, and on-site education on sleep and stress management.
Successful leaders and athletes agree
This change of attitude is being seen publicly as successful leaders and icons in every field out themselves as people who prioritize getting enough sleep and attribute the practice as important to their success. These include Jeff Bezos, LeBron James and Tom Brady, among many others.

Two recent books help to bust the macho sleep deprivation myth: The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time* by Arianna Huffington goes deep with science and stories of the worldwide crisis of sleep deprivation. The description notes Arianna shows how our cultural dismissal of sleep as time wasted compromises our health and our decision-making and undermines our work lives, our personal lives –– and even our sex lives.
Tim Ferriss published Tools of Titans: The tactics, routines and habits of billionaires, icons and world-class performers*. This book is rife with odes to sleep from very successful household names.
So, it’s clear that we need more sleep. How do we make this happen?
Here are a few tips from research and my own experience:

Make a commitment. It all starts with self-awareness and the public commitment with those around you that you value sleep and are working to get enough rest. Remember that as a leader you are a role model in every aspect of your behavior. Your people note what you do, not what you say.

Decompress. Give yourself enough time to stop thinking about all of the unresolved issues and challenges you face. Write down the items on a list to get them off of your mind. An hour before bedtime, start to take your mind in a different direction and begin to settle your system.

Kill the blue light. We live in a 24/7 digital world that involves bringing blue-lit devices before our eyes. This light has been demonstrated to stimulate the brain and contribute to insomnia. 
When you begin your hour-long wind down, kill the blue light and consider removing digital devices from your sleep area. TV is not any better. How many of us have fallen asleep in front of the set only to wake up and not be able to go back to sleep in our beds? Kill the blue light.

Stick to a schedule. Most sleep experts advocate going to bed and waking at the same time, which teaches our bodies and minds a rhythm.

Track your sleep. As we say in business, what gets measured can be improved. Fitbits, iWatchs, and most smartphones will let you track the amount and quality of your sleep. I previously used Fitbit* and currently use the iWatch* and the AutoSleep app, which provides metrics, including how much I was in deep sleep. (See products at the end of this article.)
Create a ritual. As you wind down, experts say it’s best to have a bedtime ritual by doing things such as taking a bath or a shower, sipping herbal tea, dimming the lights and reading a paper book. For better sleep, I take 10 mg of melatonin* and drink orange-flavored Calm, * which contains magnesium. (Of course, check with your physician before you consider this.)

Watch what you eat and drink. Alcohol and caffeine can contribute to insomnia, or waking in the middle of the night. It’s also recommended you not go to bed hungry or stuffed, both of which might disrupt solid sleep.

Exercise. Finding the time to prioritize exercise, experts say, can contribute enormously to stress management and solid sleep. 

These are a few tips that I’ve practiced myself and find valuable. There are plenty of resources available to you when you make the commitment to prioritize sleep.
It’s clear that improving our sleep has tremendous benefits and little downside. If you won’t do it for yourself, consider sleeping more for those who depend on you at work and at home. 
As you make your way through the holiday frenzy, consider giving yourself the gift that keeps on giving: a good night’s sleep. ZZZZZ ;-)


 P.S. –– To talk with me directly, please use my contact page.

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* If you purchase a product with the Amazon affiliate links below you will pay the same price and I will receive a small referral fee which is used to purchase books for this newsletter. I only list products and services I trust for my own use.

LeBron James & the Hero’s Journey

What each must seek in his life never was on land or sea. It is something out of his own unique potentiality for experience, something that never has been and never could have been experienced by anyone else. 

 --Joseph Campbell

In my business storytelling workshops, I delve into the powerful archetypes of stories that reach into our subconscious minds.

As human beings we are hardwired to respond to stories and no story is more powerful than the hero’s journey.

That’s the tale of the hero who has a vision, who loses his or her way, yet through force of will overcomes obstacles to achieve success against all odds. Think The Odyssey, think Rocky, and think Star Wars.

Joseph Campbell, the leading writer on the power of mythology in storytelling, called it the “hero’s journey.” His seminal book is The Hero with a Thousand Faces. George Lucas credits Campbell’s writing for inspiring Star Wars.

I tell people to watch for these kinds of hero stories in their own businesses and lives and retell them to build trust and connection with stakeholders. Those stories are all around us, and not just in the movies.

Sports gave us a powerful example this week as LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA Championship, over the Golden State Warriors, who had the most wins in a season in NBA history. The previous year, the Warriors defeated the Cavaliers in the NBA finals.

In an interview with Rachel Nichols on ESPN this week, LeBron detailed his journey. Most of the quotes below are from that interview.

Think about this structure for a story with mythological power:

The stage is set

Cleveland had failed to win a national championship for the past 52 years. The city had come close many times, only to be heartbroken by a last minute miscue. It seemed like the city might be cursed.

At the same time, the industrial Midwest collapsed with plant closures, unemployment and increased crime and poverty.

Our hero grows up in difficult circumstances

Nearby Cleveland in Northeast Ohio, a young basketball prodigy is born to a 16-year-old single mother in 1984. He grows up in dire conditions, but his talent is recognized early and he is protected from losing his way.

“The city just molded me, when the city of Akron saw that I had a gift, they were like, ‘leave him alone, he might be able to do something special to make us feel great about ourselves.’“ 

During his high school career, James makes Akron proud with records and state championships, and as a high school senior appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the title, “The Chosen One.”

Our hero pledges loyalty to the people

“And I thank the city every single day. I lived in poverty. I saw things I would never want my three kids to see. They kept a shield around me during my young-man days, till I became a professional athlete,” James said. In May of 2003, James signs a $90 million endorsement contract with Nike and turns pro. “From that day on, I said I will always represent Akron, I will always give back to Akron because I know what they did for me.”

Our hero begins his journey to win for the people

In the same month, the Cavaliers won the NBA Draft lottery and the next month drafted LeBron first in the NBA. “I knew once the Cavs got the number one pick I was going to dedicate myself to the franchise and do whatever I could to help that franchise win,” James said.

Over the next seven years, LeBron fought to bring home a championship to Northeast Ohio, setting massive records for scoring and every other aspect of the game. Unfortunately, as hard as he fought, James and those surrounding him were never able to win the ultimate prize.

Our hero ‘betrays’ his people

As a free agent in 2010, James conducts a tour of prospective teams but tells Larry King that the Cavaliers have an edge in re-signing him. In July of that year, James announces he will be “taking my talents” to the Miami Heat.

Northeast Ohio explodes with anger and resentment. Cavalier’s owner Dan Gilbert calls it a “cowardly betrayal.” His jersey is burned in the streets. He is roundly booed when playing in Cleveland. LeBron becomes the city’s anti-hero.

Our hero gains the prize

With great fanfare and an all-star supporting cast, James and the Heat win consecutive NBA Championships in 2012 and 2013. In early 2012, James says he wouldn’t rule out going back to Cleveland to play. “I’m happy where I am now, but if I decide to come back, hopefully, the fans will accept me,” he tells a local paper.

Our hero comes home

In July 2014, LeBron announces, “I’m coming home.” Our hero had learned how to win the prize and he promised to bring a championship to Cleveland and end the drought of more than 50 years.

“A few things happened along the path, but my heart was always there. My heart was always back home and when I decided to come back last year I said ‘my main objective is to bring a championship to this city.’”

Our hero overcomes doubters and the odds

“There were a few writers last year and this year that said, ‘He’s lost his step. The high-flying LeBron James is gone; he’s passed us by. This isn’t the guy who can bring a championship anymore. His title days are over. I guess I used it as a little motivation, I guess I proved a lot of people wrong.’”

James and the Cavaliers are down 3-1 in the finals. No NBA team had ever come back to win in that position, and this was against the team with the most wins in an NBA season. James kept himself and his team confident and calm.

Our hero achieves his vision

James fought hard and produced record-breaking numbers, and the Cavaliers brought a title home to Northeast Ohio.

“They deserved it, they wanted it, and they needed it. I felt like I had the right blueprint to accomplish something they’ve never seen before. To have a dream, to have a vision, and to make it come to fruition, it’s a beautiful thing.”

LeBron said that he had no idea how hard the road would be. “Tonight was definitely the end of that road, but it was very tough.

“They (people outside of Ohio) would never be able to understand what Northeast Ohio and Cleveland sports fans have been through for the past 50 plus years since Jim Brown was able to bring a championship to the city.”

More than a million people join a city celebration for the Cavaliers and James, the young man from Akron, who returned and kept the faith.

“To seek out something and then be able to deliver, this is unbelievable.”

The hero’s journey is all around us.

You won’t find stories of this magnitude but search your own life and business. There are stories of heroism that don’t get told.

In our own ways, we are all on a hero’s journey.

Find those stories and bring them to life.


Photo Credit: Cleveland Cavaliers