The Leadership Cost Of Cheating Sleep



This weekend, I read a fascinating interview in which the Chief Executive of the Lloyds Banking Group, António Horta-Osório, revealed details of a personal crisis which forced him to enter the Priory clinic following a period of prolonged insomnia that caused extreme exhaustion.

Horta-Osório admitted that the job nearly “broke” him as the precarious finances of Lloyds (bailed out by the British government after the 2008 crash) drove him into a zombified state.

In the interview with the Times magazine, timed to coincide with World Mental Health Day, Horta-Osório shared the details of his troubles. Within months of starting the high profile job, he spent nine days at the Priory clinic to prevent a nervous breakdown, after his insomnia reached a tipping point which he said affected his abilities.

“It almost broke me,” he said. “I thought I was Superman. I felt I could do everything. Before this, I had thought that the less sleep and the more work, the better. It showed me I was not Superman. And I became a better person, more patient, more understanding and more considerate. It was humbling but you learn.”

He sought help from a psychiatrist who provided ongoing help.

"I wasn’t used to asking for a lot of advice or showing a lot of [emotion] because I'd been a CEO since the age of 29 and it is a very lonely job - people require leadership, even in moments of adversity and difficulty," he said. "To go from there to this humble experience and learning to 'share' with someone else, yes, it required some learning, I admit."

Speaking of the bank’s state at the time, Horta-Osório described it as “life-or-death”, saying he felt “very personally about leading the team to turn it around and give the taxpayers’ money back”.

Whilst I never reached the point of extreme exhaustion Horta-Osório describes, as a busy former Chief Executive myself, I remember being tired pretty much all the time. I used to struggle to get to sleep at night. I knew good quality sleep is essential for productivity and mental health but my mind was always busy, turning over new ideas.

As a result, I woke up tired, grumpy, and ill-prepared for the day. My energy flagged right after lunchtime, and come evening I was good for nothing. Maybe you can relate?

Once I created an intentional nighttime routine, I started to sleep soundly for seven to eight hours each night, wake rested, and have the energy I need to be creative and productive.

My Nighttime Ritual

  1. A short restorative yoga practice. Restorative yoga postures like forward bends, reclining cobblers pose and savasana activate the parasympathetic nervous system, making them an effective way of preparing for a deep, restful sleep.

  2. Use essential oils. I use them topically to help set the stage for optimum relaxation and sleep. I love The White Company Spa Pulse Point collection which I apply to my wrists and temples.

  3. Take the right supplements. Nytol Herbal works for me, and helped me kick insomnia to the curb when I was struggling to get a good night's sleep as a Chief Executive.

  4. Read something light. I save my serious reading for early evenings and weekends. I find it easy to get lost in a Stella Rimington spy thriller or the latest Erica James novel, and always have a book beside my bed.

  5. Optimize your environment. Temperature and light can really affect my sleep pattern. I sleep best when the room is cool and absolutely dark. So I turn the temperature down a bit lower than during the day, have the window open and make sure the curtains are shut tight.

Some of these activities may work for you; and some of them may not. See your routine as a work in process, and keep tweaking until you get it right. What gets you the best night’s sleep possible? That’s the question you have to answer.

Once you do, you’ll discover you’re more rested, creative, energetic, and productive the next day.

Join The Conversation

Question: What helps you to get a good night’s sleep? I love reading your feedback so please do take a moment to share in the comments box below.

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I’m Denyse Whillier, a Sussex and London based business coach and consultant. I work with responsible business leaders to build profitable and successful brands that do good, make money and help to change the world. I draw on Built To Succeed™, my proven success system, developed during my 8 years in the trenches as a CEO, to help my clients to achieve their goals.

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