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Why Leaning Back Is as Important as Leaning In

Posted May 8, 2013 by Kristen Zavo in On the Ladder

I had the pleasure of hearing Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post speak a couple weeks ago at the NAPW National Networking Conference.  To say she was inspiring would be an understatement.  One of the main themes running through many of Arianna’s anecdotes and advice was the concept of learning to lean back.

Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, Lean In: Women, Work & the Will to Lead, has successfully created a much needed (and sometimes heated!) dialogue about the importance of “leaning in,” or taking an active role in our own career management.  But Arianna takes this advice a step further, stressing the need to recharge regularly so that we can lean in reinvigorated, with a clear mind and sound judgment.  She says that –

In order to be effective at leaning in, we must learn to lean back.

Leaning back means taking care of ourselves, inside and out.  Here are a few ways to get started:

Get Enough Sleep.

Make sleep a priority.  Arianna’s wakeup call came in the form of a broken cheekbone when she fell asleep at the desk and hit her face out of sheer exhaustion.  Now she makes sleep a priority and is a self-described “sleep aficionado.”

Arianna spoke about how in today’s society it is almost seen as a badge of honor to be sleep-deprived.  She has found that businessmen, especially, brag about how few hours of sleep they get as though it makes them more macho.  Quite the contrary.  It makes them less effective.  Nothing beats a good night’s sleep and the feeling that you are ready to take on anything.

As Nate Anglin says in his “Where Fitness Meets Corporate” blog, in a post specifically about lack of sleep:

Sleep deprivation is a nasty habit by most business professionals and you’re the one that pays for it. Not enough sleep lowers your ability to deal with stress. All the small things become large and all the large things become life or death situations. Being able to manage stress is a MAJOR factor in controlling your life and your business.

Regenerate Often.

Take time to regenerate.  Recharging is more than just getting your zzzzs.  Even if just for a couple minutes at a time, Arianna suggests we check in multiple times a day and assess our stress level.  She has developed a free app, GPS for the Soul, to help us do just that.  The app begins by gauging our stress level and then interrupts this cycle by connecting us with that which helps us de-stress and put things in perspective, for example, music, poetry and pictures of loved ones.

Whether you use the app above, or just take a few minutes for a walk, to phone a friend or do a little light stretching, the point is to consciously build time into your day to de-stress.  In the long run, this ability to “reboot” will make you much more effective and able to make better decisions at work, and in other parts of your life!

Redefine Success.

Arianna also stressed the importance of redefining success.  In the traditional male model, money and power equals success.  According to her calculations, successful businesswomen pay a very high price based on that definition of success, with a 40% higher incidence in heart disease and 60% higher incidence in diabetes.  No matter what the statistics, there’s no denying that if you are not taking care of yourself, your health will suffer.  Thus, the new formula for success must include well-being.  All the money in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have your health or peace of mind.

It’s one thing to hear about the importance of taking care of oneself and overall work life balance from doctors and health experts.  They don’t understand; they aren’t in the business world.  But when we are given the advice to “lean back” from super successful businesswoman, entrepreneur, author and media mogul, Arianna Huffington, I think we’d be wise to listen for a change.


About the Author

Kristen Zavo

Kristen Zavo is a strategy and marketing professional, with a special interest in the retail industry. Having always been interested in the people side of business, Kristen loves to explore, reflect on, and share stories about the challenges and adventures of being a businesswoman. No topic is off limits - whether it's how to handle being the only woman in the boardroom, or figuring out how to to pack all the "essentials" for a 2-week business trip in just a carry-on! Outside of work, she loves exploring new places, spending time at the beach and meeting friends to workout (spin or yoga, anyone?!).