Leadership Lessons in Raising a New Guide Dog #1: Lack of Sleep and Emotional Intelligence

November 28, 2010 by Ken Nowack

“You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus”

Mark Twain

We welcome Rocco, our new Guide Dog puppy my wife and I are raising to hopefully help someone who is sight impaired. Rocco is an 8-week old beautiful yellow lab owned by Guide Dogs of America and we are beginning a new journey for the next 18-months to help him become ready for all the technical training he will receive when he is mature to hopefully become the “eyes” and companion for someone who is blind.

Some of you have followed the journey of our last guide dog puppy Ajax who is in his formal training and has another month or two to decide if he will pass to become a working guide dog (stay tuned and I will keep you posted on his progress).

It’s not atypical for a new puppy to adjust to its new surroundings, puppy raisers and daily routines. Right now Rocco, tends to wake us up every 2-3 hours at night so we are feeling that early puppy raiser sleep deprivation so common at this stage of his life.  He seems to be sleeping a lot but I feel a bit like a waking zombie during the day being pretty tired and exhausted during the day as every new parent understands.

An early lesson in raising guide dogs is just how important sleep is for both the puppy raisers and the dogs!

Employees are Pretty Ineffective Without Sleep

Most leaders and talent believe they can ignore exhaustion and a “marker” of successful performers is to thrive on stress and pressure. Actually, just the opposite is true–the “best of the best” manage energy and not time and thrive on renewal of their emotional, cognitive, physical and spiritual energy each day.

The general effect of sleep deprivation is pretty widely known. If you get less than just 2 hours of sleep than you need you are likely to have pretty significant decline of memory, decision making, and psychomotor performance (thank you National Safety and Transportation Board member and friend Mark Rosekind, Ph.D. for all of his fascinating research studies on sleep and fatigue).  Miss an entire night of sleep and your overall performance is pretty much a bad as somebody legally drunk in the State of California.

And, as if decision making and psychomotor performance isn’t enough, new research by Sheldon Cohen and his colleagues found that those who get 7 hours or less sleep a night are almost 3 times more likely to get sick than those getting 8 hours or more sleep at night (they determined this by placing cold viruses in study participant’s noses).

Does Lack of Sleep Make you Less Emotionally Intelligent?

In a new 2010 studyby Els van der Helm and colleagues at UC Berkeley, it appears that lack of sleep makes you less emotionally intelligent.

The ability to “tune into others” and have social awareness are critical aspects of those high in emotional and social competence. In an interesting study of 37 healthy participants (21 women) who were randomly assigned into a sleep control or sleep deprivation group were asked to recognize the intensity of human facial emotions.

Participants who were sleep deprived had a marked and significant blunting in the recognition of angry and happy affective emotions and these differences were most notable in female participants. This finding might be most fascinating in light of the “tend and befriend” effect in women than enables them to “tune” into the social cues of their offspring and others (mediated by the hormone oxytocin).

The good news? The deficit in emotional intelligence (i.e., being able to accurately discern the correct identification of emotional expressions by others) was completely restored following one night of recovery sleep.  Indeed, we can make up our “sleep debt” by getting at least one night of solid quality sleep.

I’m glad I can’t really see any of your faces right now as apparently my emotional intelligence is much lower than normal due to my lack of sleep…..Stayed tuned for more leadership lessons with Rocco in the weeks and months ahead….Be well….

[tags]guide dogs, seeing eye dogs, Guide Dogs of America, leadership, executive, coaching, performance, sleep, sleep deprivation, leadership decision making, expertise, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack, envisia, deliberate practice[/tags]

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Leadership Development, Relate, Wellness

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  1. baldiri says:

    Really interesting..as usual…I’lb be tunned to get the news

  2. John Callen says:

    I can relate on several levels to what you say. We also raised guide dogs. I thought I had the answer to my wife wanting to add to our house dog population with this deal, until 3 in a row failed (2 had siezures, and one doberman was just ornery.) As to sleep deprivation, I taught primary leadership in the military. Part of our agenda was to take the candidates out in the woods on an exercise. Rotating small unit leaders as tasks came up. Keeping them up for 24 to 36 hours while physically challenging them. As time wore on, complex decisions became challenges with the results affecting the entire squad. I often had to resort to what I learned wth all the guide dogs we had raised. Patrience. As many of those as I taught, I can verify that lack of sleep and lack of focus “dumbs you down”. At least the candidates did not chew my couch…

  3. Ken Nowack says:

    John…thanks for your comments! Our 3rd guide dog puppy named Ajax is in his formal training and we should hear any day if he makes it to be a full Guide dog or changes his major to “recreation”….Ajax did chew my prized Garmin GPS–hoping that is a good sign that he believed I didn’t need it and neither will the person he gets matched with!

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