Charismatic Leadership Suffers Due to Lack of Sleep

Topic(s): leadership, wellness
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2016)
Article: Too Tired to Inspire or Be Inspired: Sleep Deprivation and Charismatic Leadership
Authors: C.M. Barnes, C.L. Guarana, S. Nauman, D.T. Kong
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Charismatic leadership is easier said than done. For starters, charismatic leaders must inspire, motivate, and stimulate, and convince followers to commit to a mission which is truly special. Because this is difficult, it makes charismatic leadership itself quite rare and extraordinary. Yet, so many leaders aspire to be seen as charismatic.
New research (Barnes, Guarana, Nauman, & Kong, 2016) demonstrates that sleep plays an important role in determining when leaders are considered charismatic.


The researchers say that leaders must employ certain emotions to be seen as charismatic. For example, a leader may have to display excitement about a new project in order to convince others that it will be a positive and worthwhile experience. Whether this display of emotion is authentic (called “deep acting”) or manipulated (called “surface acting”), it certainly requires internal resources and clear thinking. Lack of sleep may hurt a leader’s ability to do this properly.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers conducted a laboratory experiment in which they manipulated the amount of sleep that participants received on the night before the experiment took place. Participants gave a simulated commencement speech, and were assessed by a team of raters. The researchers found that lack of sleep led to lower ratings of charisma, and they determined that this was caused by their weakened ability to use authentic “deep-acting” as a way of displaying appropriate emotions.

The researchers also reasoned that followers who suffer from lack of sleep would be less likely to evaluate leaders as charismatic. This is because charismatic leadership oftentimes depends on putting followers in good moods. When followers are in good moods, they seek to explain why they feel good, and they may determine that their leader is making them feel good. They may then consider their leader charismatic. However, lack of sleep puts people in bad moods. This is what the researchers found in a second study. This time, they manipulated the sleep of participants who were acting as followers. The sleep-deprived participants were less likely to rate their leaders as charismatic, and this could be explained by their relatively bad moods.


This study shows that lack of sleep—whether for leaders of followers—makes it less likely for leaders to be perceived as charismatic. The authors note that charismatic leadership is associated with improved organizational effectiveness, retention, job performance, and job satisfaction. Therefore, squandering opportunities for charismatic leadership would be a mistake. How can organizations maximize the amount of sleep that leaders and followers receive? The authors recommend discouraging late-night smartphone use and caffeine, as well as revisiting other corporate policies that may lead to sleep deprivation. After demonstrating the role of good moods on attributions of charismatic leadership, the authors also stress the importance of improving these positive feelings across the organization, wherever possible. A focus on these small changes may make charismatic leadership less elusive.


Barnes, C. M., Guarana, C. L., Nauman, S., & Kong, D. T. (2016). Too tired to inspire or be inspired: Sleep deprivation and charismatic leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(8), 1191-1199. doi:10.1037/apl0000123