When leadership starts with ensuring people get enough sleep!

I came across a story about Dame Gail Rebuck in Margaret Heffernan’s gripping book, Wilful Blindness.

Rebuck, probably most well-known to most of us as the publisher of Tony Blair and Robbie William’s biographies, took over as Chair of Random House in 1991, to find there a long-hours culture, so beloved by many testosterone-driven professional organisations.

Ignoring the likes of Henry Ford, who was obsessive in his search for what make people productive – coming to the conclusion that productivity soared when it was 40 hours per week – businesses often were then (and in some cases still are) headed by people who only thought the deal was worth chasing if it took an overnight or two to hammer it out and who expected their troops to survive 60 or 70 hour weeks on a regular basis. If you weren’t prepared to do this, then you just weren’t one of the boys. And if you weren’t one of the boys then you could kiss goodbye to any ideas about promotion.

Rebuck described a culture at Random House where people worked long hours and stayed late to impress the boss. She neither wanted nor was able to work like this. As Heffernan puts it,
”She let it be known that anyone who worked past 6pm was either incompetent or had a boss who didn’t understand how to manage workload. The culture shifted overnight.”

Amongst other things, leadership is surely about fostering the conditions where others can be productive. It’s always inspiring, isn’t it, when women leaders show the way? Leaders like Rebuck know that creating a work-life balance and simply ensuring that people sleep enough is both common sense and more likely to contribute to a higher standard of work and a healthier bottom line.

Wilful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan, (Simon & Schuster 2011)

1 Comment on When leadership starts with ensuring people get enough sleep!

  1. Thanks, Dilly. I, too, am a huge fan of Margaret’s and especially of this book (which I’ve bought for several friends, as I knew it would make them punch the air in agreement so frequently…). Having worked in Corporate environments for nearly 20 years it has always irritated me that people are often more focused on input than output and that undiscerning presenteeism is so frequently viewed as an essential part of a promotion process. Whilst undoubtedly there are times when we all have to work late on a specific project, if yo’re doing it ABSOLUTELY ALL THE TIME, then you have your structure inadequately designed or there’s a need for some time management / prioritisation training. Ebbs and flows are natural – unremittingly traumatic or exhausting levels of stress are not and it’s not logical to think that working at this pitch constantly is going to get the best performance and motivation levels from people. Like most things, it’s only fun for a while. I know we often forget, but we’re only human….

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