THE BLOG
08/28/2013 12:43 pm ET | Updated Oct 28, 2013

Arianna Huffington's Leadership Lessons at #INBOUND13

Last Wednesday's opening keynote at the #INBOUND13 conference was a captivating and sound bite-rich talk from self-proclaimed sleep evangelist and Huffington Post chair, president and editor-in-chief, Arianna Huffington. Her speech, "From Politics To The Boardroom: Fearless Leadership," was honest, generous and timely.

Ms. Huffington released a torrent of important, empowering ideas and, like a true communicator, made a significant connection with the 5,300-odd people in attendance. Here are some of the biggest ideas that really struck me:

The Third Metric

Huffington is not the first to suggest that the traditional model of success in North America is flawed in that it has long been measured by only two metrics: money and power. In fact, she went so far as to say that until now, "it has been men who have designed the way the world works and it's not really working -- it's not working for women, it's not working for men, it's not working for polar bears."

She equates the traditional two-metric measure to a two-legged stool: Success must be redefined because if you see success purely in these terms, sooner or later, you're going to fall off of that stool. 

With this, she introduced us to the concept of The Third Metric -- real human capital: well-being, wisdom, the capacity to wonder and to celebrate and look at life.

LEADERSHIP LESSON: Rest, wisdom and well-being are a critical, attainable and sustainable  leadership advantage.

Stressed Out?  There's A Nap For That.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton famously stated that he makes his biggest mistakes when he's really tired -- he did not, however, specify which mistakes.

A look at the world right now shows an amazing number of leaders who are very smart and have high IQs, yet still become known for making terrible decisions -- in business, in media and especially in politics. Huffington attributes this to the "traditional" American workplace model of success, "(which) seems to be working 24/7, driving yourself into the ground and ending up with a heart attack and a corner office in your 50's."  

As a tragic example, she cites this New York Times piece by Erin Callan, who was the CFO of "too big to fail" Lehman Brothers at the time of its bankruptcy.   

In the article, Callan wrote about working around the clock; destroying her marriage and all of her relationships and wondered aloud if she could have had the same work results with less erosion of her personal life. What she didn't come out and say in the article, however, is that it wasn't a tradeoff: it wasn't like she was trading her life for the accepted modern model of "success."  Lehman brothers went bankrupt anyway.

Today's most successful, enlightened leaders are realizing that they need to find ways to renew themselves if they're going to win, because as Huffington says, "you cannot really manage creativity, you need to manage FOR creativity."

Huffington's point is that for powerful personal and business growth, it is mandatory for us to reconnect with our own energy, renew ourselves and then get back into our lives -- to get back into all the things that we love to do but not to the point of burnout. Burnout is the disease of our civilization.

LEADERSHIP LESSON: You need to be rested to be optimized -- to tap into the zeitgeist and know what your customers want before they ever do.  

Learn to Unplug

Further exploring the bedroom theme, Ms. Huffington stressed the importance of what she calls "good bedroom habits" -- no devices, no e-readers, no phones, nothing even charging in the room. She notes it is critical to take this time to disconnect from your day; to rest up and renew to approach next day with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

LEADERSHIP LESSON: You can no longer create a great product and then rest on your laurels -- you need to be constantly innovating. To create a culture where everyone expected to be always on just because they can be is to create a culture of burnout and a culture of burnout can never be a culture of creativity.

Bend Time to Your Will

Do you ever get the feeling that you are always running short on time? Huffington insists that when we take time for well-being, wisdom and wonder, "time opens up for us... we don't feel like time is leaving us behind."

Huffington's call to action? Get fiercely intentional about what you pour your precious energy and time into and remember that dropping a project is still a form of completion. Putting things off leaves a lot of open tasks in your subconscious that can drain your energy.

When you drop something, do it with clarity -- whether it's books, movies or relationships, decide when they do not deserve another moment of your life and cut them out.

LEADERSHIP LESSON: Taking time to get focused has the apparent effect of opening up, or extending the amount of time you feel you have to work on what is important.

Ancient Wisdom 2.0

The Greek philosophers had three big questions they would ask themselves:
  • How do we govern the city?
  • What do we need to know?
  • How do we lead a good life?
Somewhere along the line, we have stopped asking this last question and as a result, we have reduced a good life to money and power.  Do you ever hear anyone speak about money and power in a eulogy?

LEADERSHIP LESSON: Like Seth Godin the day before, Huffington stressed that constant creativity and innovation is no longer just for rock stars -- it is table stakes for survival. She suggests taking immense joy in your creative work and innovation, but temper your approach with the vast amount of available wisdom of the great creators who have come before you.

Huffington reminded us:

Very often, the worst things in life, the things that seem terrible heartbreaks at the time, are the best things that could happen to you because they open doors. Life doesn't really make sense while you're living it, but it always makes sense when you look back. We are moving into times that will be ever more turbulent and uncertain, but where humanity and generosity will be more and more important.

My six-word summary?  Be well, be brave, be amazing.