I recently read an opinion piece by Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini in which he extolls the virtues of greeting the sun just as it's rising each morning: "Every day I get up at 5:30 for my own yoga and meditation practice because I know I'm going to head into a chaotic world where I will be challenged."
With all due respect, Mark, I too anticipate challenging chaos every day. That's why I get up at 4.
To be fair, Bertolini's piece was more about mindfulness than sleep habits, but it does highlight that the way CEOs approach their daily routines directly impacts the culture and effectiveness of companies they lead.
At an old-school company, where status quo benefits the industry and innovation is a looming threat, a later start is perfectly acceptable. But if you are building an innovative and disruptive company in one of the nation's biggest industries, you have to open your own eyes well before your competition.
I wake up at 4 a.m. and am in the office by 5 a.m., which means I have gotten ahead of my emails, communicated with board members and clients on the East Coast and in Europe, and caught up on the news before most people have had their first cup of coffee.
Starting early communicates an infectious enthusiasm to my employees, a confident dedication to my customers and board members, and a vow to myself to lead with passion.
That last point--passion--is particularly important. If you can't imagine waking up at 4 a.m. to get your day going, then maybe you have a "job." I don't do jobs. I have a mission. And that mission has me leaping out of bed to build our business and change the world. If you don't have that level of passion in the morning, maybe it's not you but rather your lack of a mission.
I also know that people want to be led. They want a leader who is thoughtful, knowledgeable, passionate, and prepared. One of the first things I do in the quiet hours of early morning is to create an attack plan for the day. I make lists of things I need to do for the day and review the game plan for the week, the month, and the year. I align my daily to-do list with my calendar, literally blocking off time to complete specific tasks (including training/cycling).
Writing this article is a good example. Today's world is dominated by social media, and as a leader, if you're not actively participating, are you effectively leading? I block off time in the early morning hours to publish articles and tweets that excite our customers, create notoriety with talented recruits, and position us in the marketplace as innovative thinkers.
I exercise daily--usually midday or in the evening--and always try to make it home for dinner with my wife. I maintain a healthy social schedule. And I participate in 10 to 15 competitive cycling events per year.
So, while I don't cut corners when it comes to taking care of myself, I do skimp on sleep, getting about 4 to 6 hours a night. But as a health care technology innovator intent on revolutionizing a multibillion-dollar industry, I've come to realize that it's far more important to be a visionary than a dreamer.
People ask me if I'm sleep-deprived. That's the wrong question. I am simply invigorated and energized more by work that I do than the sleep that I get. Can you say the same?