WELLNESS
02/29/2016 02:09 pm ET Updated Mar 01, 2017

Sleep Is A Leadership Challenge

JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images

I have been preoccupied lately with many of the discussions and debates on effective leadership skills. As the President and CEO of Des Moines University, a 118-year-old health sciences university, I am often asked to talk about my leadership style and what I believe it means to be a transformative leader. My answer normally starts with sharing the principles of servant leadership, a phrase coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. My answer is followed by descriptions of my core values of collaboration, integrity, authenticity, and accountability.

When questioned about the unique challenges of women in leadership roles, I often share the somewhat conflicting message that I believe "gender may not have anything to do with it," trying to send a message that women are just as competent and effective as men. Then, in the next breath, I give the other side of the message: "gender has everything to do with it," because women and men tend to be scrutinized differently even when the same behaviors are displayed.

Leadership does have its challenges and I have learned to navigate many difficult situations, learning from each as I moved forward in my career. The one thing that we tend to forget, however, is just how much of an impact work-life balance has on our effectiveness as leaders.

While we often talk about how much we should take care of ourselves, both mentally and physically, we (women in particular) often find ourselves taking care of everyone else first, often placing ourselves at the bottom of the pile. Those of us who are wives and mothers are most often guilty of this. It is so easy to do - I have to remind myself to always carve out the "me time," even if it is just to get away for some quiet reflections during the day.

We can choose to find the "me time" and make ourselves a priority, or we can move through life thinking whatever is left is just good enough for us. If you are not already there, it needs to be a wake-up call for us because if we are not at our best, then ultimately we will not be there for others. So, don't forget to find your "me time!"

My "me time" includes reading on the elliptical. I'm always trying to multi-task whenever possible. It was my recent reading of Arianna Huffington's book, Thrive that got me excited because it gave me additional perspective which affirmed what I have come to know to be true. I often talk about the importance of living in a way that promotes health and wellness, but equally important are peace, satisfaction, and contentment with our lives. Her message of thriving spoke to me.

I am even more excited to learn of Arianna Huffington's Sleep Revolution! In her soon-to-be-released book, Arianna states, "It's clear that if we're going to truly thrive, we must begin with sleep." What a profound, revolutionary concept!

I am so impressed with her life story and the "sounding of the alarm" she has issued about sleep. In The Sleep Revolution, she makes a concerted effort to educate us all about the dangers of sleep deprivation. In addition, she challenges us to join her in starting a movement to be proactive in promoting the essential value of sleep.

This message is even more important to me as a leader who often has to juggle many balls. So, as I contemplate the question of effectiveness in leadership, there is one obvious question to be asked. Just how effective can we be if we are sleep deprived? Not only do I believe we should take care of ourselves by living a life that incorporates healthy eating, exercise, and social/spiritual outlets; I believe we are fooling ourselves if we can think we can do all of this when our sleep meters are on empty! Remember the "me time." Let's join the Sleep Revolution!

This post is part of our series on sleep culture on college campuses. To join the conversation and share your own story, please email our Director of College Outreach Abby Williams directly at abigail.williams@huffingtonpost.com. And you can find out here if the #SleepRevolution College Tour will be visiting your campus, and learn how you can get involved. If your college is not one of the colleges already on our tour and you want it to be, please get in touch with Abby.