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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This morning I drove 90 minutes round trip for a 90-minute meeting. It was a woman’s networking group that convenes at lunch every month or so to talk about our evolution. It’s aptly called the Evolve Network, and today in particular I was encouraged by the amount of talent in the room.

I became acutely aware of what a resource we women are, not only to each other, but to the world at large.

Talent Management magazine recently reported on the fact that women’s income is rapidly increasing compared to men’s; we’re at a whopping 81 cents to every man’s dollar (hey, I remember when it was 75!), yet companies aren’t always swift to adopt a more women-friendly atmosphere.

According to the World Economic Forums “The Global Gender Gap Report,” which ranks 134 countries based on the size of income gaps between men and women, along with chasms in education, political empowerment and health, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden win out. Chad, Pakistan and Yemen showed the broadest gender gap while the United States had a boosted ranking of #19 versus #32 just one year ago (I do wonder how much of that has to do with the ‘mancession‘).

While the author of the article, Mike Prokopeak, agrees that bringing the income gap into balance is one way to counteract the unfairness in the workplace, he also states that

“another is broadening work-life programs to better leverage the contributions of women and benefit men. Most employers still structure jobs based on the assumption that someone is at home taking care of the family, and some women are put on the “mommy track,” forcing them to trade career opportunities for raising a family.” Full article here

The ‘mommy track’ is one reason why I work from home, creating not only my own career path, but also my own rules. It works well, except for those moments when the battle over who gets to use the bathroom when boils over into my conference call time with the East Coast…

Life in the slow lane can have its challenges!

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When Reality Hits

April 7, 2010

The Power of Slow is about mindful living; When Reality Hits: What Employers Want Recent College Graduates to Know takes a good look at what it means to engage in mindful working.

The book is organized into twelve chapters that cover the gamut of corporate culture: from table manners to a firm handshake to my favorite topic, cell phone etiquette. In concise language motivational speaker and author Nancy Barry offers clear guidelines on the do’s and don’ts of work life for recent college grads.

Even for a veteran PR professional such as myself, I found her tips to be refreshing, sometimes even humorous and always respectful of the person she’s trying to help. Although some of it was repetitive (we know smiling in most cultures is an ice breaker, which she mentions a lot), what I appreciated the most was the can-do spirit she imparts to young workers.

She also offers helpful advice on how to deal with constructive criticism. She sees in everything an opportunity to learn.  “[I]f someone is trying to give you feedback, resist the urge to immediately defend yourself. Listen to what they’re saying.” And we all know that saying “I take complete responsibility” is an effective way to stop your boss’s tirade and move on.

Her largest power of slow message can be found on page 13: “Pace yourself…Work hard, but be careful about the potential stress if you work all the time…Technology has changed the way we work. Thanks to cell phones, BlackBerries and e-mail, there’s an expectation we should be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Once you start working all the time, your colleagues and clients will come to expect it.” Later in the book she seems to offer contradictory advice by saying to ‘do what it takes to get the job done,’ but remember there is power in saying ‘no,’ which she also admits. Sometimes proper expectation management is the fastest road to success.

Be sure to take this book along for the ride. Whether a younger or more experienced worker, we can all benefit from Nancy’s message to remember to play while we work and that sometimes all it takes is a good homemade double chocolate chip cookie and a hand-written note to make all the difference in how our work lives unfold.

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The American Time Use Survey, released every year in June by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reveals not much as changed since last year in how we spend our time. According to their 2008 report, one-half of our daily leisure time (2.77 hours) is spent watching the tube. Socializing came in a distant second (about 45 minutes daily). Men (3.01 hours ) watched a bit more TV than women (2.55 hours). I don’t suppose those financial shows count, do they?

Nonetheless, the interesting difference this year is that people worked .1 more hours at home than last year (that’s six more minutes for the fractionally challenged). That either means more people are telecommuting or are staying connected to the workplace even longer. A full twenty-one percent (as opposed to twenty percent last year) worked 2.90 hours a day at home on average. When looking at full-time employed men only, that numbers jumps to 3.13 hours a day.

How are we spending our time? A lot of it is spent in front of a monitor. Screen time is becoming more and more prevalent every day…

…think again.

When it rains it pours is a saying that applies to most of life. Sometimes we’re on a high; other times we seem to be headed downhill. The roller coaster ride called life never ceases to provide us opportunity for learning and surprise.

Such was my day today.

July 2009 024After working a fifteen-hour day wrangling 50+ extras on a set with two live elephants, I’d say I had earned a time-out this morning. It seemed to flow well until I met resistence on the phone with one of my clients. Her tone was sharp, and I felt wrongly accused. Clearly my system was worn. I needed a break, and it didn’t seem as though I was going to get it.

Then the IRS sent me a letter stating I owed them a penalty, plus the self-employment taxes I had proven I do not owe. Twice.

So I waited until a reasonable hour on the East Coast to give them a call. It was then that magic seemed to unfold. Expecting the resistance I had felt with my German client, I instead received the warmest, kindest welcome ever. The representative went above and beyond the call of duty, even tracking my profile when we erroneously got disconnected so she could get my number when I called back into the switchboard. She returned my call, cancelled the bill, and wished me a good day with the sincerest of apologies.

“Your frustration deserves attention. Let’s hande this right now.”

I was blown away.

So I asked her who her supervisor was. She clearly deserves recognition for a job well done. She modestly thanked me, telling me she was up for review and that it would certainly help. I wrote a letter of thanks and placed it in the mail the same day.

Kindness comes from the strangest places. Sometimes we expect it, and it does not come. We wonder why we should continue to be kind when it seems the world around us has turned stone cold. Then you enter a warm pocket of air where blessings abound. I could almost hear the Universe giggle in glee at the mere thought of surprise.

What a gift this ride truly is!

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