There’s one singular practice that makes an immense difference in our ability to lead well.
This practice helps keep you physically energized all day, so that you can power through meetings and tasks. It helps you retain your mentally acuity, so that your focus is sharp and your thinking is clear. It even helps maintain an even-keeled emotional state to maintain your equanimity when circumstances might push others out of balance.
Yet, it’s often ignored.
What is this magical practice, you ask? Rest! Rest rejuvenates us in all these ways.
Fortunately, we can get rest a number of different ways. Adequate nightly sleep is, of course, among the most important means of getting rest. It resets our body and our brain for the rigors of the next day. Lack of adequate nightly sleep results in sleep debt, and the symptoms include memory loss, irritability, feeling depressed, a weakened immune system, impaired judgement and slower reaction times (see this peer-reviewed scientific study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2656292/). In our culture, going to bed late and getting up early is considered a badge of honor, that you are so busy and dedicated that you burn the candle at both ends. And that may be okay for a few days, but not as a long-term strategy for leadership effectiveness.
If getting enough sleep at night is difficult, a 20 minute daytime nap can also restore our energy and alertness. Typically, naps are frowned on by people who don’t understand their value; that said, napping during a job for which you’re being paid an hourly wage is understandably inappropriate, unless you’re on lunch or a break.
Another mode of rest is mindfulness or meditation, even if only practiced for 5 or 10 minutes once or more a day. It’s a mental break, and even something of a physical one. Mindfulness practice can be particularly effective as a touchstone when conflict arises, dipping back into the sensation of an internal neutral zone when needed, which is so important for maintaining a culture of trust and engagement.
Believe it or not, another form of mental rest is to take a walk in nature, which is also physically and emotionally refreshing as you focus on the natural views, sounds, and sensations as you walk. Walking with your eyes on the ground ahead of you deep in thought is much less effective, so remember to look up and around, listen for the birds chirping and the trees rustling, and notice the breeze on your skin.
If you can manage it, another form of rest is to take an hour or two, or a day or more, away from the normal routine, and that can be participating in a hobby or sport. Research has shown that when people engage in this kind of activity, they enhance their performance, their productivity, and their sense of personal wellbeing, sometimes even solving problems that seemed intractable – a common issue for those in leadership positions (see Benson & Procter’s book The Breakout Principle). Restful vacations…well, do we really need to explain that, too?
For more in-depth ideas and resources especially aimed at those in leadership roles, check out Cashman’s book Leadership from the Inside Out.
A few thoughts to finish with: First, our obsession with non-stop, 24/7 productivity is only a few decades old. For millennia people have been taking a Sabbath day of rest each week. Indigenous cultures believed that rest was part of what made a full and happy life. And even God took a day off after creating the heavens, earth, and it’s creatures.