Paging through this week’s Crain’s Chicago Business, I came across an article about StanleyBlaylock, a new and influential leader at Walgreen’s. The article rightly pointed out Mr. Blaylock’s successful track record and critical importance to Walgreen’s strategy.
But it was a throw-away line that really got my attention.
Wiry and energetic, (Blaylock) says “sleep is my variable,” figuring he averages about five hours a night… Former colleagues recall late-night dinners and drinking bouts with clients on a deal in Sweden, followed by early-morning negotiating sessions.
Do you recognize this man? He may be working at a Walgreen’s near you…
This is the dominant image of a leader in our society. They are invincible, able to work incredible hours, party hard to grease those important relationships, and squeeze in sleep as an almost-optional activity. Rest and a sane pace are for less gifted, more mortal creatures (aka middle managers). The elite can run at a different pace with impunity.
Except for most people, this image is simply a lie! Most people need around eight hours of sleep (yes, there’s good research out there about that!). Most family/personal relationships need real quantity and quality time to flourish. Most human bodies need exercise and a sensible diet to remain healthy. Very few people can cheat these natural laws for long without consequences.
I’m lucky enough to have honest moments with very accomplished people at all levels of prestigious organizations. Many think they can run at Blaylock-like pace and cheat nature. But most crash (or crumble or slowly slump) to the ground at some point and realize a humbling fact.
The irony? When they start to make changes, many of the things that were persistently tripping up their work as leaders – irritability, impatience, interpersonal melt-downs, inability to focus on one thing long enough to actually get it done, poor health – many of these things start to improve, simply because they began to rest.
So Stanley Blaylock, hats off to you if you can truly run on 5.5 hours of sleep. To the rest of us, I wish a good night’s sleep.