THE BLOG
02/25/2014 05:52 pm ET Updated Apr 27, 2014

Want to Be a Better Leader? Let's Follow the Science

Blend Images - Jose Luis Pelaez Inc via Getty Images

We all know a leader (or two) who works excruciatingly long hours and boasts about his or her lack of sleep. This person uses exhaustion as sign of work ethic, and lack of sleep as a taunt to others to work harder.

But did you know that many of these same leaders have symptoms of exhaustion, joint pains and brain fog? Did you know that those same people make more errors and ill-fated decisions?

Is this the person that should be making world-changing decisions? Is this the type of person you want leading others?

In today's society, we often gloss over certain symptoms as manifestations of "getting older." Brain fog, memory loss, weight gain etc. seem to be just a normal part of aging.

All these symptoms are present in almost epidemic proportion. In fact, biologically, there is a definite link to our over-scheduled days, lack of sleep, work stress and poor performance. Why, then, do people continue to romanticize stress-filled lives?

Chronic, daily work and life stress causes the biology of our bodies to unravel. For example, there is a phenomenon called cortisol "steal."

When Cortisol, one of our main stress hormones, is chronically elevated, it "steals" from other feel-good hormones as well as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and aldosterone.

It's like our stress-making machine runs out of fuel so it starts to steal fuel from the other machines in our body. What we are left with is decreased hormones, over-worked adrenal glands and lack of decision-making skills.

To make things worse, this stress coupled with lack of sleep, poor diet and exercise contribute to increased stress on the body in the form of inflammation.

So while people may think that fatigue, moodiness, lack of drive, join pains, allergies etc. are just part of aging -- they are actually forms of inflammation manifesting in our bodies.

Interestingly, the combination of this internal stress and external stress is reason the problem even worse in today's age. It seems that leaders in the past may have had some of these same problems -- but they didn't have the combination of bad nutrition habits, exposure to toxins and sedentary lifestyle to go along with their stressful jobs. Also, leaders of the past rarely lived past their 60s, so it's hard to assess the effect (if there was any).

But the most probable reason that people in the past did not address these concerns was because they didn't know any better. Nowadays, for example, professionals in the fields of medicine and aviation know all too well that inadequate sleep and stress can result in more errors -- many of them life-threatening. We also now know that inadequate sleep can also negatively impact our cognition, learning and memory. Stress and sleep loss coupled together contribute to heart disease, stroke, diabetes etc.

How can we lead and make huge decisions if we are making more errors, getting more diseases and learning less efficiently?

Wisdom, mindfulness and great leadership come from taking a "bird's eye view" of a situation. It commands patience and requires you to step away to see clarity. It requires culminations of facts with experiences. It requires cognition, concentration and calmness. Medical physiology clearly spells out that this is stunted with our current practices unless large, sweeping changes take place in our workplaces and homes.

We need to start integrating biological facts into our company policies and incorporate stronger messages about the benefits of sleep, meditation, diet and stress relief in the workplace.

What if we implemented worldwide or company-wide programs to track our progress with sleep, stress control and tracked resulting improved cognition?

What if we made even better decisions this way?