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"Be fearless" Huffington tells Forum women

Monday, July 25, 2011  
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Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group, told a mostly female audience at the NEW Executive Leaders Forum to "be fearless--women’s leadership is more important than ever.” Two hundred senior-level executives attended the fifth annual Forum, which was held by the Network of Executive Women, the consumer products and retail industry's largest diversity organization, July 19-21 in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

"Leadership is about seeing the iceberg before it hits the Titanic," she said in her keynote address. "We as women, as mothers, have gotten used to looking for the trouble ahead. There's something about that instinct that makes us special,” she said. "If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters, it might still be around.”

"The key to leadership is how we react to the bad things that happen each day,” Huffington said. "It's not really about preventing bad things from happening, but how we choose to respond," she says. "The more I've taken care of myself, by getting sleep and clearing my head, the better I am at reacting to the bad things."

The importance of self-care hit home when Huffington fainted from exhaustion three years ago. She broke her cheekbone and had to have five stitches above her right eye. "I almost lost my sight," she says. "That's when I began to wonder if this is what my life was really going to be about." After the accident, having a balanced life became her top priority. "I wanted to be enjoying the journey as well."

Annoying roommate

Huffington said nearly everyone struggles with fear of failure, but women in particular "have an inner voice that starts tearing us down.” She compared the voice to "an obnoxious roommate that won't leave." (She told Stephen Colbert on his television show that the voice sounded just like him; he retorted, "I just needed a place to crash.") Today, she said, the voice of doubt only makes "guest appearances.”

She spoke with feeling about her "tribe of women,” especially her mother and two daughters. "My mother was fearless and taught us very well,” she said. "One of the few times she got really angry with me was when I was sorting mail and talking with my daughter,” Huffington said. "She looked at me and said with her deep Greek accent, ‘I abhor multitasking.’”

Huffington urged the leaders to be "completely present” and to take time to unplug and recharge. Even a weekend can be a "luxurious vacation when you have no Internet and no phones. Then you truly know where you're at and are able to free your mind.”

Asked what wisdom she would impart to her daughters, she said, "You cannot deal with a problem until you're there, looking at it. Don't start thinking ahead of yourself, throwing your balance off. Wait until your mind and body and the problem are in the same place before you deal with anything. Be in the present, all in one place.”

"There's an extra instinct humans have--to find meaning in our lives,” Huffington concluded. "That's why we see people wanting their lives to be about making a difference and succeeding at the same time. Women, we've got to stop looking for a leader on a white horse to save us, and instead be our own leaders to make our lives better."

"We need women leaders more than ever," Arianna Huffington told the NEW Executive Leaders Forum.

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