Arianna Huffington is often described as authentic, intelligent, and humble female leader. Several weeks ago I've had a chance to hear Arianna speak to a large audience at HubSpot's INBOUND conference, as well as a pleasure of talking to her afterwards, and I can tell you that this description of Arianna couldn't be more accurate. We discussed success, work and life balance, and wise leadership. Below are some of the leadership and life lessons she talked about that stood out for me.
- Leaders need to redefine success. "Right now success is defined in terms of two metrics: money and power," says Huffington. "But it is like a two-legged stool, at some point you'll fall off of it." Leaders need to consider other metrics such as well-being, inner wisdom, our capacity to wonder and celebrate life, and give back. But the way companies are currently run, there is no space for these metrics. Leaders use words like "we are killing it" and "we are crushing it", and, as a result, people constantly live in a fight mode. To tap into our own creativity, we need to slow down. Without creativity there is no innovation.
- We need space to innovate, think, and strategize. " 'Restore connection' is not just for devices," says Huffington. "It is for people too. If we cannot disconnect, we cannot lead." Leaders like Jobs and Gates were known to go away for extended periods of time to reconnect with themselves, their vision, and their ideas. Leaders need to find that place of wisdom, strength, and real connection (with themselves and others) and they need to lead from that place. Only from that place they can truly create miracles and change the world.
- Great leadership and creativity don't come from the place of exhaustion and burnout. Huffington Post offices have several nap rooms. In the beginning, when Huffington first suggested the idea, employees told her that they won't be caught dead walking into the nap room. Now the rooms are perpetually booked, and several additional nap rooms are opening soon. "It's time to sleep your way to the top," Huffington says with a smile. Humans cannot be sustainably productive in the constant crisis mode. We need an opportunity to decompress and disconnect. Even a five-minute nap can recharge you and make you more productive. Have a book on your nightstand instead of iPhone, leave your technology at home when you go camping, don't reach for your phone the moment you wake up. This also means you, as a leader, need to set up the right expectations internally with your employees. At Huffington Post, no one is expected to answer email after hours or over the weekend. "Ninety nine percent of the time it's not urgent and to create a culture where you are constantly plugged in and expected to be always-on is to create a culture of a burnout," reiterates Huffington. "Creating the culture of burnout is opposite to creating a culture of sustainable creativity. This is something that needs to be taught in business schools. This mentality needs to be introduced as a leadership and performance-enhancing tool." The World Health Organization estimates that stress costs American businesses $300 billion dollars a year. Introducing some form of mindfulness at work will have a positive impact on the bottom line.
- Intuition is underrated. "If you are not in touch with your intuition, you cannot be successful," says Huffington. Data is great. But sometimes, even when you have all the data in the world, if you don't follow your gut, you won't discover the true potential and be able to recognize critical opportunities.
- Your energy and your time are scarce resources, learn to prioritize and learn to let go. To be able to fully move on, you need to complete your projects. And sometimes you can complete a project by dropping it. This skill can be incredibly useful to you, assures Huffington. You need to decide what you are going to put your energy into and what you are NOT going to put energy into. The latter is just as important. Huffington says she leaves movies and plays in the middle if she doesn't feel like they are worth another 15-60 minutes of her life. You just need to make a decision, call it done, and move on.
- Failure is not the opposite of success, it's a stepping stone to success. If you are not willing to fail and to learn and adapt along the way, you are not willing to be great! Enough said.
- Holding grudges is like drinking poison, it saps a lot of your energy. Generosity, humanity, and humility will become increasingly important as the times we live through become more uncertain and turbulent.
- Great leaders have guts to stand up for what they believe in. Nowadays the anticipation is that the public company has to beat its expectation and this leads to some of the worst business decisions. As leaders, we have to have the guts to stand up and do it our way. Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs are leaders that continued to innovate and reinvent the industries as they stood by their values and their visions. They took a lot of criticism along the way, but they understood that pioneering comes with initial misunderstanding and disapproval.
"We walk through life feeling like we are running out of time. It's a terrible way to live your life," says Arianna Huffington. When you ask people what they want more of in life, the answer always seems to be "more time". We need to become wiser about what/who we let rule our lives and take charge of our own success. But before we do, we need to make sure we have our own very clear definition of what "success" truly is. What's your definition?