While he was our boss, Jim rarely spent any time on the shop floor in the morning. If he did happen to walk by, he might nod. Or wave. He clearly wasn’t a lark, a morning person.
In the late afternoon, though, Jim was on fire. Sometimes so much so that he would usually gather our crew together in a large circle and pace back and forth, voice and gestures growing louder and broader, and talk about pulling from the same end of the rope. Reading from the same sheet of music. How individual snowflakes are fragile yet can form an avalanche when they all stick together.
Then he would clap his hands a few times and look around expectantly, convinced he had inspired us all get back out there and kick production ass.
Some people are extremely persuasive. They influence (in a good way) the people around them. They make people feel a part of something bigger than themselves.
In fact, every successful person I know is at least somewhat charismatic. And tends to be really good at persuading other people; not by manipulating or pressuring, but by describing the logic and benefits of an idea to gain agreement.
Maybe you think that sounds like you. Or maybe you think it doesn’t.
Either way, you’re right.
Blame your circadian rhythm, the process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. According to research recently published in Leadership Quarterly, people tend to be much less charismatic when they’re at a relatively low point in their circadian rhythms, and much more charismatic when they’re at a relatively high point.
Or in non researcher-speak, larks are more charismatic early in the morning, night owls more charismatic later in the day.
Jim was a classic night owl, almost stereotypically so. Early in the day he was surly. Almost uncommunicative. In the afternoon? Borderline manic.
Which highlights the second half of the research cited above.
Morning people perceived a speaker to be more charismatic when they viewed a videotaped presentation in the morning; morning people who viewed the same video later in the day found that person to be less charismatic. The same held true for night owls; the same speaker seemed much more charismatic when viewed at night than in the morning.
In short, it’s easier to inspire morning people in the morning, and night owls at night.
Our crew was made up of morning people, and it didn’t take a neuroscientist — or a chronotype survey — to figure out our collective tendency. We all got to work before the shift started to get a jump on the day (and to let the previous shift head to the time clock a little early). Given the choice between coming in early to work overtime or staying later, we always chose to come in early.
Inspire and motivate us in the morning? That was easy. We were primed and ready.
By late afternoon, though, even Tony Robbins would have struggled.
Bottom line? When you want to inspire and motivate people, first consider your circadian rhythm. Think about the time of day you feel most energetic and enthusiastic, at least in broad terms like morning or afternoon. (Or early morning or late afternoon.)
Then think about the people you want to inspire and motivate. While it’s unlikely they’re all either larks or night owls, odds are more fall in one camp than the other. (Plus the nature of their jobs may almost force people to shift from their natural tendency; when I worked on a loading dock we all had to be morning people, at least in terms of effort, in order to get trucks out on time.)
Then do your best to line up your tendency with theirs. Unless you’re absolutely certain everyone is either a lark or night owl, avoid 8 a.m. or 5 p.m. Maybe that will mean 11 a.m. meetings are a good compromise. Or 1.30 p.m.
And if you’re still in doubt, err on the side of when your team will be most receptive.
Because where leadership is concerned, it’s never about you.
It’s always about the people you lead.