How Much Sleep Should the Leader Sacrifice? Two Ancient Cases and the Lessons to Draw From Them


Ancient leaders had a complicated relationship with sleep. In Iliad 2, Agamemnon is told by a godsent dream that kings should not sleep all night; they are supposed to wake up before dawn to carry out their kingly business. The idea that leaders should wake up before others pervades Greek thinking, and finds a prominent expression in Plato’s Laws. This is the “Wake Up At Dawn” paradigm. Leaders could choose to go further and adopt a “No Sleep” paradigm, like the late Roman emperor Justinian. In his legislation, he mentions the sleepless nights he spends worrying for his people, and contemporary historians like Procopius depicted him as an unnatural man, who expressed his will to control the whole state by not sleeping at all.

This case develops and compares the two paradigms. Students are encouraged to question the iconic figure of the leader as a superhuman, and to evaluate the contribution of a leader’s personal sacrifice to group success. Students will consider the value of the leader striking a healthy work-life balance to establish sustainable leadership, especially with respect to sleep.

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