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How Successful Marketing Leaders (Like Arianna Huffington) Unplug

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It takes a leap of faith to unplug. Several senior marketing leaders and CEOs whom I have met think of their lives as an “either/or” proposition where they are either relaxed and unplugged, OR overworked and hyper-connected. Today, I believe it’s about living a “both/and” life. We are human beings, not human doings.

I just attended the Washington Women’s Leadership Initiative conference, and spent some time discussing this topic with Huffington Post CEO and bestselling author, Arianna Huffington. She invited me to become a blogger for HuffingtonPost last year, and I’m glad that I did. Their site attracts 24 million unique visitors every month. Her keynote, “The Third Metric,” resonated with the overachieving women (and two men!) in the audience. Huffington is promoting her newest book, Thrive, which launches in late March.

Lisa & Arianna Huffington-1
Arianna and Lisa, February 12 2014

Huffington asserts that we often live our lives measuring success through two metrics: money and power. She said the stool is missing a third leg: wisdom. She boldly claims that our world has become unmanageable., and that throughout our day, we move from crisis to crisis. She also believes that many of our challenges, such as sequestration and the fiscal cliff, are manufactured. ”Many people with very high IQs are making very bad decisions.” She alluded to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former IMF  Managing Director, whom she opines had all the qualities to become France’s next president prior to the accusations of adultery and his assaulting a hotel employee in New York City. What’s missing in these political and business luminaries’ drama-laden lives is wisdom.

Thousands of studies outlining the benefits of mindfulness, single tasking, and reflection can no longer be ignored. I will be featuring several of them in my upcoming book, The Mindful Marketer: How to Stay Present and Profitable in a Data-Driven World (launching in fall 2014). These practices are now mainstream.

Wisdom is cultivated by taking small steps. Arianna Huffington never brings any mobile devices or computers in her bedroom. During her keynote, she proudly announced that she uses an old fashioned alarm clock and a traditional phone. If her news staff needs to urgently reach her, they have her emergency phone number. Otherwise, the temptation to check emails during waking moments is too strong.

Eric Lecky, VP of Marketing at ICF International, is one of my mindful clients. He grew a stellar marketing team from 3 to 40 people within a few years. He reports that “in order to focus and be more ‘present’ in meetings and work activities, we occasionally host technology-free meetings. It may seem a bit counterintuitive, but shutting off smartphones, email, and even the conference call line creates a much more intimate experience and often spawns a different level of attention, and therefore creativity.  I encourage my team to engage this way when possible. It has a certain liberating aspect to be able to block out the world and just focus.  We have found this is especially helpful in creative brainstorming sessions-some of our best ideas emerge when we shut off the gadgets.”

Whether you are planning a live customer conference or an internal team meeting, create moments to unplug. Build a nap room (a practice which has gained popularity at The Huffington Post, General Mills, and Google offices), a place for people to meditate, or practice yoga. Your constituents will initially be skeptical. Eventually, they will appreciate, if not love, the gesture.

Mindfulness cultivates wisdom. It creates a space for creativity to emerge. In today’s world, that is what feeds our souls, and what feeds sustainable companies.

copyright 2014, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of wwli.org