Sleep, Diet, Wellness, and Performance: Leadership-by-Example
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? (James 2:14 NIV)
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21 NIV)
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV)
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48 NIV)
In contemplating that leadership challenge, why turn to those four verses? The first, from James, is a reminder that claiming something — or saying — is not enough; there must be quantifiable action — or doing — to validate the claim. The second, from Peter, reminds me that leading is, first, a following. The third, from Paul, is a reminder of the responsibility to lead followers well. And, lastly, from Jesus, I am reminded of the impossible task of leadership perfection.
I have argued with myself, saying, if leadership perfection is unattainable, why shouldn’t I admonish others to “do as I say, not as I do?” At least, I’m saying the right things, if not always doing the right things, which, as a human being, I cannot be expected to do, anyway. What about the biblical concepts of forgiveness and grace? Don’t those apply to me, as a leader?
Nowhere does that justification attempt to maintain a stubborn foothold than in such personal habits as sleep, diet, and self-care, which, while private, affect the quality of my public performance. As a leader, I may want to describe ideal sleep, without regularly obtaining such sleep myself. A part of me may want to eat whatever I choose, while still describing to others what they should eat. For self-care, I may want to say, “tomorrow,” so I can continue, today, to describe what self-care means to others.
Leadership comes with a cost. Personal demonstrations are the burden and privilege of leadership, requiring emotional, physical, intellectual, relational, and spiritual stamina.
The National Sleep Foundation says adults (ages 18–64) should get 7–9 hours of sleep per night, 7–8 hours for older adults (ages 65+).[i] Most of us have, from time to time, “cheated sleep,” for various reasons. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines short-sleep as less than 7 hours within a 24-hour period and reports the percentage of short-sleepers varies over the U.S. Short-sleepers had higher reports of 10 chronic health conditions: heart attack, coronary heart disease, stroke, asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), cancer, arthritis, depression, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes. [ii]
People use what they consume, often in the form of carbohydrates, caffeine, and sugar, to boost mood or jump-start productivity. Food and drink move out of the realm of nutrition and become pick-me-up energizer, bring-me-down relaxer, or both. Some have been leaders, who speak of hectic schedules and pressing demands. From more than one, I have heard the greater-good excuse, which goes something like “I’m doing such important work, I don’t have time to worry about what I eat (or how I sleep).” The demands of their leadership become an excuse to continue habits degrading that very calling.
In counseling, we teach people the concept of, and tools for, self-care. Some of those we serve have never grasped their value and, thus, are foreign to the idea they should care for themselves. I’ve always been struck by the biblical assumption found in Ephesians that says, “After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.”[iii] Where would any of us be if Christ followed our example of self-care for his body, the church?
Lack of sleep and poor diet are performance killers and can generate their own vicious cycle. You don’t sleep well so you pump yourself up with high-fat, high-sugar foods and caffeinated drinks, which give you calories but don’t provide you with the nutrition you need for your body to rebuild or experience restorative sleep. In the midst of this deprived cycle, you are expected to operate at peak performance, make executive decisions, and lead followers into the better future you envision — all while you’re exhausted, irritable, and error-prone. You know it doesn’t work but, still, you continue.
Saying and Doing
What is the leadership answer? I cannot be perfect, yet, I still have a duty to say and do what is right, day by day, decision by decision, habit by habit. I am not always successful, but that failure does not negate the importance of trying. To become better, I find I must be highly intentional in my personal habits. My prize is the privilege of leadership in various aspects of my life; a privilege I need to honor, in a human body that requires sleep, nutrition, and gentle care; a privilege I need to honor by doing, myself, what I say to others.
Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE in Edmonds, Washington, voted a top ten facility for the treatment of depression in the United States. Dr. Jantz pioneered Whole Person Care in the 1980’s and is a world-renowned expert on eating disorders, depression, anxiety, technology addiction, and abuse. He is a leading voice and innovator in Mental Health utilizing a variety of therapies including nutrition, sleep therapy, spiritual counseling, and advanced DBT techniques.