Better Quality Sleep = Better Leader

What do Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Arianna Huffington, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos have in common?  Beyond being some of the most well-known country and business leaders, they share the belief that adequate rest and sleep is vital to being able to lead and perform their best.   

Sleep positively impacts our human capacities that are most important for leadership effectiveness:

  • creative problem-solving,
  • interpersonal savvy,
  • sound decision-making,
  • self-awareness, making connections and inferences
  • and higher energy and lower stress

Bottom line…well-rested leaders have better cognitive functions. Who wouldn’t want to work with a leader like that?

Unfortunately, 42% of leaders get fewer than 6 hours of shut-eye a night versus the recommended minimum of 7-8 for optimal repair and performance according to a study by the Center for Creative Leadership.

Organizations need leaders with the skills and capacities to engage others, steer through challenges and manage change and complexity—which is why they provide development opportunities, training, and career experiences.  But for leaders to be high performers, on top of their game, and functioning at their very best—consistently—they need sleep, too.  Click here for ways to improve your sleep from wellness expert, Andrea Cassell.

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3 Good Tips for Dealing with Bad Leadership

We believe that everyone has the potential to become a great leader. Developing leadership skills is hard work, and sometimes you’ll find yourself working with a leader whose skills are a work in progress. If you find yourself in a situation, here are three tips of how you can make your job more bearable:

  1. Own it. Focus on what you can control. What can you do to make the project, meeting or job better? If you get stuck dwelling on the problem, you risk feeding it.
  2. Focus on results. Concentrate on what you need to accomplish by thinking about how your role supports the organization’s success. It’s hard to go wrong when you’re delivering high quality results that align with the organization’s needs.
  3. Ask for feedback. Engaging in a round of healthy feedback without getting defensive can build a bridge to a healthier relationship.

While there are many factors outside of your control, you can own your part in forging a positive relationship with your leader.


“Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but how we react to what happens.”
– Wade Boggs

5 Secrets to Balance Your Work and Life

In today’s world of constant access and fast-paced lives, everyone struggles with finding the best way to manage their energy and time. Here are five secrets to maintain a healthy work/life balance, and get the most out of every day:

  1. Identify what’s not working for you: Spend a week tracking how you spend your time, and then goals for how you want your time to be spent. Compare the two, and see what changes you can make!
  2. Establish boundaries: Making changes means setting boundaries. If you want to spend more time on creative pursuits, then carve out time and space for creativity.
  3. Set goals: Some boundaries take time to get in place. Be patient, and set long term goals that you work towards. It may be a while before your new morning ritual is in place, take steps each morning that bring you closer to success.
  4. Get support: Everyone needs support to achieve their goals, especially goals that change how you manage your relationships and time. Support can come in the form of emotional, cognitive, political, or physical support. Individuals, groups, classes, and other resources can help you connect with the support you need.
  5. Track your progress: Celebrate your successes, and recognize and learn from your mistakes. As you move towards a more balanced approach to productivity you will see the impact of your changes.
“You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it.”– Charles Buxton

10 Simple Tricks to Maximize Your Mental Strength

man reaching for sky

Great leaders stand out for their ability to disrupt the status quo. They have the courage to make bold moves, and to innovate new solutions to old problems. Where others see impenetrable barriers, they see challenges to overcome.

This knack for seizing opportunity when things look bleak is not an innate ability that a fortunate few are born with. Instead, it represents a mental strength that is built over time and economically used. Developing mental strength takes intention, focus, and daily practice; and so does spending your mental resources wisely. Start with these 10 practices to work out your mental muscles, and to make the most out of the mental energy you have:

  1. Establish goals: with each goal you achieve, you’ll gain more confidence in your ability to succeed.
  2. Set yourself up for success: Stop wasting your energy resisting temptation or trying to find the tools you need. Want to eat better? Stock your pantry with healthy food. Want to limit distractions? Place your phone in a drawer.
  3. Tolerate discomfort: Don’t let yourself use short-term solutions to address long term problems. Instead, taking care of things the right way the first time, can help you maintain your mental reserves.
  4. Reframe your negative thoughts: Replace overly pessimistic thoughts with more realistic expectations to help you stay on track. “This is too hard to do” becomes “I am going to have to figure out a different approach”.
  5. Seek balance between emotions and logic: You can confidently move forward with decisions when your emotions and logic are in sync. Strive for a balance that allows you to live compassionately and rationally.
  6. Work towards your purpose: Write out your personal mission statement to remind yourself why it’s important you keep going, and to help you spend your mental energy where it matters most.
  7. Look for reasons, not excuses: Acknowledge and face your mistakes so you can learn from them and avoid repeating them in the future; without wasting energy dwelling on them.
  8. Say no: When you’ve reached your limit, say no with confidence. Saying no to a new commitment honors your existing commitments and allows you to successfully fulfill them.
  9. Overcome procrastination: Recognize that there is no magic time in the future where you will suddenly want to do the undesirable task. You are as motivated to complete the task now as you ever will be. Start now, and get it done! The more your practice this, the easier it becomes.
  10. Take care of yourself physically: Getting enough sleep, and eating the right foods can ensure you have the reserves you need to keep going, even as things get tough!

“I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse” – Florence Nightingale

The 5 Warning Signs your New Leaders are Derailing


In our last newsletter we focused on the 12 Challenges First-time Managers Have and ways to support new leaders encountering these challenges. Expanding on this theme, we want to look at the small warning signs that could lead to bigger trouble down the line.

Gil could fix any problem you put in front of him. Need a report by noon? They gave it to Gil. Need to find something in the data that no one else could? Gil could find it, write about it and present it in a way that made sense. His technical expertise was sought after throughout the entire organization. You didn’t need to tell Gil what to do; he would just do it, and go above and beyond what was needed. As productive as he was, he thought he was a shoe-in to be the next manager of the department. All he had to do was pass the interview.

But he didn’t. Despite all that he knew, the organization didn’t think he had the skills or the experience to make that all-important transition from stand-out producer to leader. Gil felt humiliated and, eventually, left the organization.

Does Gil sound like someone (or a lot of people) in your organization: that “golden child” or “rock star” or ever-growing list of high-potentials who are so good that you think they should be promoted from individual contributors to leaders, but whose career later derailed when you realized it was a mistake?

How do you know if you have employees like Gil? Here are five warning signs, based on decades of research, that your current or soon-to-be new leaders may be on the verge of derailing:

  1. Problems with interpersonal relationships: Do your new leaders have trouble developing good working relationships? Are they “lone wolves” who are often seen as cold, arrogant and insensitive?
  2. Difficulty building and leading a team: Do your new leaders struggle to transition from being a team member to being a team leader? Can they staff and form their teams effectively? Can they handle differences and conflicts among team members?
  3. Difficulty changing and adapting: Do your new leaders have difficulty changing their mindsets? Are they resistant to changing, learning from mistakes, and growing and developing as leaders? Can they adapt to people with different work styles? Can they adapt to the strategic approach necessary in their new leadership position?
  4. Failure to meet business objectives: Are your new leaders actually performing well? Or do they over-promise and under-deliver? Do they lack follow-through?
  5. Overly narrow functional orientation: In research on derailment, this warning sign is the one that tends to stick out the most for new leaders. Think of it as the classic salesperson who was so good at sales that she was promoted to lead the sales staff. In this leadership role, however, she could not stop being a salesperson and switch to being a leader, with all the added responsibility and understanding of others outside the sales function.

If a lot of your new leaders (or those who are groomed to be leaders) are showing these signs, there are ways to help—and there’s no time to waste. Based on my research on almost 300 new leaders, I encourage new leaders, and those who develop them, to concentrate on six key areas. If we can make it clear how new leaders must change (or, as I like to call it, flip) their (1) mindset, (2) skill set, (3) relationships, (4) do-it-all attitude, (5) perspective and (6) focus, we can prevent potential derailment.

We need to do it sooner rather than later. When research participants are asked, “How long does it take to know if a person promoted into his or her first leadership position failed in making that transition?”, the average response is just a little over 140 days. That means we in the training and development field have about 20 weeks to make sure our newest leaders don’t derail. That’s not a lot of time!

I will admit, in a “former life,” I was Gil. I didn’t even make it past the interview, and my career derailed. That’s probably why I’ve become so passionate in helping new leaders; I don’t want them to end up like Gil … I mean me.

Both new leaders and those who want to be leaders need—and, frankly, deserve—more of our time and attention. We should make it a priority to alleviate potential derailment by supporting people who are making one of the most difficult transitions in their careers: the one from rock-star individual contributors to superstar leaders.

William A. (Bill) Gentry, Ph.D., is director of leadership insights and analytics and a senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) in Greensboro, NC. He is the author of the book “Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders.”


“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” —Warren Bennis

4 Mental Habits to Reduce Stress and Burnout

Aha Leadership Peer Group


The holidays seem to bring an extra layer of stress in the workplace and at home.  Holiday parties, year-end deadlines, goal and budget planning for the upcoming year in addition to finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list, all add extra stress to our lives.  Read below for some tips to help you avoid the holiday burnout this season.


1. Wake up. The first step gets you about 80% of the way! To reduce stress and become more resilient you need to recognize how much time you spend ruminating. People spend as much as 70% of their daytime hours in a half-awake state, on autopilot or daydream mode. This is where all rumination takes place and all stress is generated.

The alternative is to wake up and focus on where you are and what you are doing in the present. Don’t let your mind drift into worrying about the past or the future.

2. Control your attention. People often feel stressed about their lack of control. The one thing you always have control over is your attention. Once you have woken up, you can use and direct your attention. Practice consciously putting your attention where you want it to be and holding it there.

3. Detach. Detachment is the ability to maintain perspective. A lack of detachment and the tendency to ruminate are intertwined in a spiral of stress: When you ruminate, things balloon out of proportion, and when things are out of proportion, you’re more likely to ruminate.

If you can detach from the situations you are facing, you can distinguish between care and worry. It allows you to reflect and plan rather than ruminate.

4. Let go. To maintain perspective, you need to let go. But that doesn’t mean doing nothing or letting go of the work or tasks or effort. What you let go of is the negative emotions that have become entangled with your situation or issue.

Of course, because of the strength of habit, negative and worrying thoughts will return. When they do, instead of blocking them out or fixating on them, observe and acknowledge them as just thoughts, and let go of them by not continuing to feed them with attention.


Stress-Reducing Tactics to Try

How do you put these ideas into practice, especially at work? Here are a few tactics to try on your own and as you lead others:

-Interrupt a pattern. Stand up. Clap your hands once. Stretch in your chair. Do something to get back into your body and out of your head. If you are in a meeting or other space where you are constrained, just move in a small way and focus on the movement for a moment. Rub your finger and thumb together, or wiggle your toes in your shoes, or move your tongue around your mouth.

-Re-focus on something you can control. People who don’t ruminate do this naturally, saying, why worry about things I can do nothing about? Think about what is in your circle of control.

-Put things in perspective. Play with scale or time. What is the problem or challenge that is happening now? Shrink it down relative to other things you have experienced or stretch out in time: how much will this matter in 12 months?

-Ask direct reports questions about right now. Many people in workplaces suffer over things that are not actually happening. They are imagining the worst possible outcomes. They’re ruminating.

When you see people caught up in the future like this, you can help short-circuit their thinking. Don’t dismiss their feelings, but bring the conversation to the question, “What problem are you experiencing, right now?” This offers something actual and practical you and they can work on directly.

-Start doing walk-and-talk meetings. People often get stuck talking about the same problem over and over, without moving to a solution.

One of the most effective ways to break your direct reports from this pattern is to get them to stand up and go for a walk and talk. Just 5 to 10 minutes walking inside or out breaks people out of a physical pattern. When the body moves, the mind will follow and cognitive patterns will shift, too.

Courtesy of Center for Creative Leadership

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another” – William James