4 Reasons Leaders Need Rest

On a recent trip to Denver, CO I did something I have never done before: I missed a flight. 

Without getting into details, it was my fault and I was frustrated.

When you miss a flight heading from the west to the east coast scheduled for 4:00pm on a Sunday afternoon, you learn that there are not many other flights scheduled after.  In short I had to wait in the Denver airport for a 1:30am flight to get back home.

All told I spent countless hours in airports and a total of 34 hours awake. 34 hours! I am too old for that!

I was so angry and loopy. At some point an inability to think or focus set in. Even when I was home and could sleep, I was unable to fall asleep. Who is so tired they cannot sleep? 

Many were the lessons from this adventure. Mostly I took away that I am not wired to function without rest.

While this is true on a base human level, it is a good lesson to a leader as well. "Burning the midnight oil" or "burning the candle at both ends" are great metaphors, but they do not make leaders effective over the long haul. I want to explore 4 reasons why every leader needs to build rest into their calendar.

You need rest because...

Tired eyes rarely see a bright future. 

Leaders are dealers of hope. Inspiring others to better days are our core task. Exhaustion causes us to see the future dimly. It is impossible to inspire when we feel stuck in the mire. Rest removes us from the pressure of the urgent to see the possibilities of the future. Those you lead are struggling to see past the immediacy of the moment. They need you engaged in the potential of what lies ahead.

When fatigue walks in faith walks out. 

Leadership is hard. At the core of a great cause is the belief that what you are doing will work. A lack of rest robs us of the strength to hold on to that belief. It is ok to get tired, but it is not ok to stay tired. You have to lead yourself enough to recognize when you need to hit pause. One indicator is when you begin to see things through the dark veil of fear. Rest renews faith.

Exhaustion makes mountains seem taller and valleys seem lower. 

When a leader is tired what once looked like a challenge morphs into an impossibility. Leaders tackle big mountains and persevere through dark valleys. Perspective helps keep leaders balanced during turbulent times. Rest is the key that unlocks perspective.

Decisions when you're worn out result in potential fall out. 

I heard someone say, "Don't make a big decision when you're tired." There is truth in that. Instead of pressing through and forcing a decisions it is often best to wait. When I am faced with a big decision I do not like to make it when I feel pressured or tired. When you are exhausted being decisive can become divisive. Wait, rest, then decide.

I have rested up since my Rocky Mountain airport fiasco. While I regained some sleep I also gain some great leadership insight. Hopefully these will help you the next time you feel tired. And hopefully I will be reminded to get to the airport a few minutes earlier from now on!