Friday, February 5, 2010

what keeps me awake...

I was asked this week why leaders talk so much about being kept awake at night, and as I tried to answer the question, I realized there are so many facets to this "phenomenon" that it became difficult to talk about it in a coherent sense. It is often true that those in leadership positions find themselves tossing and turning at 3:00 in the morning - I had a neighbor in Houston who would pace up and down his driveway in the middle of the night, trying to figure out a problem or come to terms with what he had to do. In having this discussion with a colleague, several thoughts crossed my mind:
  1. The issues or problems with which leaders struggle are often complex with multiple entities involved and varying consequences for decisions made. There is seldom a black/white answer, so as leaders consider the options with which they will address the issue, they also consider the multiple consequences that will result. The question of what decision will do the least harm/most good is difficult to answer concretely, so the mind battles back and forth - thus resulting in lack of sleep.
  2. Leaders have to make difficult decisions that affect people's lives - hiring/firing, pay raises/pay cuts, promotions/demotions...the list can go on forever. These decisions determine how people will feel about the leader - and for most leaders, they are people who like to be's why we ended up in this position in the first place. Making unpopular decisions may be the most difficult things leaders need to do, and so we agonize over trying to find ways to make decisions which will result in the largest number of people being happy. Knowing that a decision will make someone angry at us churns the insides - thus resulting in lack of sleep.
  3. Very few people within any given organization are responsible for the entire organization - leaders often are. The multiple deadlines - the multiple products - the multiple meetings - the multiple programs- the multiple constituencies - the multiple budgets...again, the list can go on forever. Leaders have to pay attention to all of these different "things" on a regular basis, and so in the dark of night, when the leader wakes up for whatever reason, these "things" reappear in his or her mind. These are not necessarily bad "things" or even consequential "things" - they are just multiple "things." And as the leader begins to think and consider these "things," thier mind begins to race - thus resulting in lack of sleep.

So what do leaders do about this? Unfortunately, some turn to destructive behaviors that affect not only their leadership but also their personal lives. Some believe that if they just trust God enough, they will be able to sleep through the night (but even Jesus spent the night awake in the Garden). Some quit their jobs and find a position in which the overall responsibilities are less. And some learn how to cope.

For me, I have learned to cope in two ways:

  1. When I wake up and the mind is racing, I walk to my study, write down on a piece of paper what I am considering, place that paper by the front door so as not to forget it in the morning, and then go back to bed. I sometimes find myself doing this several times during the night.
  2. Late night/early morning TV has become a good friend. I have found that the drone of a newscaster or a PBS documentary can lull me to sleep because it allows me to concentrate on something other than what is happening in the organization. I can pretty much tell you all about "The Scooter" as it seems those commercials dominate late night/early morning TV.

And then there are those in leadership positions who sleep through the night, every night, all night long. God bless you, and if you ever figure out why you can do that, let me know. But until then, I will keep making sure that the TV remote is within reaching distance before I fall asleep.

1 comment:

kurt bennett said...

Well put! Last year, at a conference for Fire and EMS Chiefs one of the speakers asked, "Who wakes up at 2:00 in the morning thinking about work?" 2/3 of the Chiefs in the room raised their hand.

A man I know shared that he tells any anxious person who will listen to practice what the Bible says in Philippians 4:6,7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

That man, by the way, lost his 19 year old son in a plane crash.

Try it. It works.