Look to the ‘Leader in the Mirror’

By Joanne Deschenaux Jun 27, 2011
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LAS VEGAS—Although billed as a presentation on “The Brave New World of New Media,” Arianna Huffington advised the audience at the June 27, 2011 general session during the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM) 63rd Annual Conference & Exposition to “unplug and recharge.”

The key in this age of increased technology is going to be “learning to disconnect from all technology and find time to connect with ourselves and our own wisdom,” said Huffington, the president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, nationally syndicated columnist and author of 13 books.

Huffington, in 2005, launched the Huffington Post, a news and blog site that quickly became one of the most widely read, linked to and frequently cited media brands on the Internet. About five months ago, the Huffington Post merged with AOL. Since the merger, Huffington said, “I have discovered the incredible value of HR.”

Several HR professionals arrived to get the newly merged organization up and running, “and I asked myself, ‘Where have you been all my life?’ ” she told the audience, adding that, in the past few months, she has learned firsthand how HR “affects everyone’s life in the workplace.”

Trust Is Essential

Social media has taught us an important lesson about how we interact with one another, Huffington said. “The things we value online—trust, authenticity, empathy and giving back—are the same things we value in life.”

One of the key issues is trust, she continued. “How do we trust one another, and how can HR professionals facilitate this?”

Referencing the sarcastic “obnoxious roommate living in my head,” she noted how easy it can be to always focus on the negative. “We imagine things in our workplaces; people looking at us the wrong way. We need to deal with this. We shouldn’t assume the worst.”

So how do we create trust, she asked, defining the word as “the idea that we are there to support one another” and calling it “priceless.”

“Every day there are issues to deal with. That is not going to go away. The key thing is how we deal with those issues.” And related to that is our own state of mind. “If we are balanced, we will deal better with those issues.”

She then suggested that HR professionals institute nap rooms in their workplaces, saying that there is “nothing like a 15- to 20-minute nap to put everyone in a good mood,” and noting that she was “kind of a sleep crusader.”

HR is well-placed to lead the way toward teaching the importance of work/life balance, she said.

Find Joy in Life

When the going gets tough, as it inevitably will at some point,“indulge in something that brings you joy,” Huffington then advised. She quoted the French writer Colette, who said, “I had such a wonderful life. I just wish I had noticed it sooner.”

Huffington continued by saying that when talking about “the pursuit of happiness,” America’s founding fathers really meant “feeling good by doing good.”

“When you look around at humanity, there is an instinct to make something of our lives beyond our own selves. That is becoming more prevalent,” she said.

So when HR professionals are dealing with workplace problems, they should keep in mind that “being out there and helping others is a way to bring balance,” she noted.

“You are the ones dealing with the most important asset any employer has—everyone who works there,” Huffington said. And “don’t look for someone to come in and fix the problems.” Instead, “look at the leader in the mirror.”

Being a leader, she continued, means being willing to experiment and take risks and being willing to fail. “As you try to solve workplace problems, do it with more balance, more joy, more gratitude, more sleep and more wisdom,” she concluded.

Joanne Deschenaux, J.D., is SHRM’s senior legal editor.

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