How Arianna Huffington Defines Success

“The current male-dominated model of success isn’t working for women,” Huffington says, “and it’s not working for men, either.”

How Arianna Huffington Defines Success

At the Wall Street Journal, Arianna Huffington writes that Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In has unleashed a range of conversations–including what world, exactly, is being leaned into.


To Huffington, we’re failing to understand the nature of success.

“This is a great moment…to acknowledge that the current male-dominated model of success isn’t working for women,” she writes, “and it’s not working for men, either.”

What’s that world look like?

Arianna Huffington

Pretty tightly wound. Huffington notes that self-reported stress has gone up for both sexes in the past 30 years–18 percent for women, 25 percent for men. A recent Harvard Medical School study estimated that U.S. companies lose $63.2 billion to sleep deprivation every year. And women, Huffington notes, are more likely to feel stressed at work.

With our current “time macho” culture, we’ve got stressed-out leaders in politics, business, and media making awful decisions.

“What they lack is not smarts but wisdom,” she says. “And it’s much harder to tap into your wisdom, recognizing the icebergs before they hit the Titanic–a big part of leadership–when you’re running on empty.”

Learning how to lean back

Huffington calls upon a lovely French phrase: reculer pour mieux sauter, which loosely translates as lean back to jump higher. Or in other words, relax and you’ll be more productive.

For Huffington, what’s missing is measurement:


We need a third metric, based on our well-being, our health, our ability to unplug and recharge and renew ourselves, and to find joy in both our job and the rest of our life. Ultimately, success is not about money or position, but about living the life you want, not just the life you settle for.

Who are the early adopters?

The happiest companies, who, by way, are making more money. Examples: Google has invested in its People Operations, General Mills practices mindfulness, and Square has a director of experience.

And as Leslie Perlow notes, workaholics aren’t addicted to work–they’re need addicted to validation. So let’s change the validation structure.

Huffington on Sandberg: To Lean In, First Lean Back

Drake Baer covers leadership for Fast Company. You can follow him on Twitter.

[Chair Pattern: Yganko via Shutterstock, Arianna Huffington: Flickr user Penn State/Patrick Mansell]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.