The world needs heroes: people we look up to, admire, emulate. They are purveyors of change, strength in crisis, rock solid in stormy seas. They also raise the rest of us up during sunshine days. The best leaders, I am told, are those who put great ideas into practice that everyone else claims were their own.

Great leaders not only rule. They rock.

McKinsey Quarterly issued a most inspiring piece entitled “Leading in the 21st Century” the other day. Call me crazy, but I saw the Power of Slow throughout the entire twelve pages. I’m nerdy like that, culling through business articles because I like to learn from people who are so much smarter than me and think we might just have something in common.

The article spotlights the thoughts of six prominent global CEOs: Josef Ackerman (formerly of Deutsche Bank); Carlos Ghosn of Nissan and Renault; Moya Greene of Royal Mail Group; Ellen Kullman of DuPont; President Shimon Peres of Israel; and Daniel Vasella of Novartis.

One common theme from all of them is knowing your limits, learning how best to spend your time and taking care of yourself. Shimon Peres was by far the most eloquent of them all. He said things such as “The mind of a leader must be free – a mind that can dream and imagine. All new things were born in dreams.” Yes! As I like to say, if you don’t get enough sleep, that American Dream will never happen.

Carlos Ghosn talks of global empathy, a notion I have wholeheartedly supported all my life. We are all in this life together. You might look, sound, even smell different than me, but I bet you feel love the same way I do.

Trusting your instincts was another shared notion. Knowing when to delegate what and to whom is essential. Josef Ackermann claims “no CEO can do it all on his own. You need the expertise, judgment, and buy-in of your team.” I agree. If I didn’t have fabulous colleagues on whom I could rely, I’d be half the public relations professional I am today.

Once again Shimon Peres inspired me with his claim that leaders must have “ambition for a cause greater than themselves.” To be the master of your own ship, you must believe in something beyond yourself. Only then can you navigate the waters in this world. Sharks may be in your ocean, but you’ll hopefully have friendly dolphins too!

Staying grounded in the face of crisis is another key point. As the article suggests, reserving critical decision-making for those times when we are most rested is a wise choice. Acting out of impulse, exhaustion or decision fatigue is not a good idea.

That’s where the Power of Slow can help. Step back. Admire the grand design that is your life. You are the architect of your own reality. How are you doing thusfar?

Video bonus: Bloomberg recently followed media mogul, Je’Caryous Johnson, to see how he spends his time. The best part? His business day ends at 3 pm. After that, he says, he dedicates his time to writing. “It’s just me, my laptop and God.” Creatives are like that!

Fortune 500 magazine recently reported on research conducted by Harvard Business School, the London School of Economics and others on how much time CEOs spend at work. Entitled CEO Time Use Project, this study is headed by Raffaella Sadun, an Italian academic at Harvard who released the first findings of Italian CEOs in a pool of over 200 from around the world. On average, Italian CEOs work 48 hours a week.

What researchers have found is people themselves tend to stretch the truth about how much time they spend at work, a finding that places John Robinson’s Time Use Survey research into question (the next one is due to be release later this month). While many of his respondentsclaimed to work up to 80 hours, many of them really only worked 60. Even back in 1998, the self-reporting methodology was called into a question.

This finding drives home a point The Power of Slow makes, well, time and again.

Time is a subjective thing.

But the folks at LSE, Harvard and elsewhere believe they can translate time into money by quantifying productivity through hours work and profits made. The point of diminishing returns is an important one to make. And I’m relieved to see they’ve factored that into the equation.

The underlying motivation for looking at how CEOs spend their time (as reported by their assistants who have a stronghold on their calendars) is to find the correlation between how CEOs spend their time and firm performance.

Reconstructed from their time use diary, researchers were able to determine what they did when:

• Activities type (meetings, phone calls, travel)
• People they interact with (e.g. function, links with the firm)
• Physical location (e.g. HQ vs out of firm)
• Scheduling (e.g. planned vs. unplanned)

And they found that there is indeed a point of diminishing return. But for one percentage point rise in work hours translated into a 2.14% increase in productivity (as defined by revenue per employee). Interestingly, however, researchers dissected how they spent their time and the ability to translate that into direct productivity. For instance, meeting with employees brought more productivity than meeting with consultants or other outsourced personnel.

So how you spend your time really does matter.

According to Jason Fried and David Heinemeir, authors of Rework, “[workaholics] don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done. (page 26)”

So there is power in slow. Working less, and smarter, can translate into higher productivity.

The question is where is your pivotal point? Does working 20 additional hours to an already heavy workload really give you 20 hours’ more productivity? I think not.

Throwing money (consulting hours) at a problem won’t necessarily result in a higher return. There is a balance.

And that’s when you need to push yourself away from your computer, take a walk down the hall, snap off the lights and call it a day.

Or go on vacation, like we are tomorrow. How many work hours are enough depends on you. Research shows we all have our pain point.

And remember: there are only 168 hours a week. What will you do with yours?

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