Redefining Leadership Success in A Digital Age

By Nicole Millman-Falk

Click image to enlargeArianna HuffingtonArianna Huffington spoke on redefining success at Kellen’s Associations: 2020 and Beyond conference, held at Appella Event Space. Photo by Johnny Wolf Photography.

Arianna Huffington is on a mission to redefine leadership and success. The Chair, President, and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post, spoke on From Politics to the Board Room: Fearless Leadership at Kellen’s Associations: 2020 and Beyond conference, about when her views of success began to change. "When you wake up in a pile of your own blood and you realize you haven’t been shot, you know something is terribly wrong," said Huffington, describing her 2007 collapse from exhaustion.

She recognized that until then she was living with the illusion, which many of us still have, that burnout is required for success. "Something is wrong when tired becomes the new normal," she said. Huffington noted that if you do a Google search for "why am I…" the top autoresponse is "so tired," and the second is "always tired."

"Every mistake I made was when I was too tired," she noted. In order to be creative, we must renew. The days when most of us come out with our game-changing ideas are when we are well rested. "Fortunately, we are moving from a culture that described people who slept as slackers and losers to a new culture that recognizes that being tired is like coming to work drunk," she said.

Of course, what has made all this harder is the prevalence of technology. We live in a 24/7 world with no demarcation between our work and private lives. "The reason we have our best ideas in the shower is because we don't have waterproof phones yet," Huffington joked.

So what kind of leader is needed for our associations? While money and power may have traditionally defined success, Huffington’s new view of success is based on what she described as four pillars—well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.

Well-being goes beyond being well-rested. "Elite athletes are ahead of business practice in adopting this principle. They know that when they take care of themselves, they succeed," said Huffington. This means eating and sleeping well. It means disconnecting from devices at night and from the office during vacations. It means letting go. "Every day, even in the most blessed life, is a mixture of good things and challenges," said Huffington. "But when you go to sleep, you need to let it go."

Wonder requires that you be in the moment and appreciate the world around you. It’s time to start noticing the ordinary beauties of life that we normally miss—a sunset, the smell of the air after a rain, the architecture of a building we walk by every day on the way to the office.

Writes Huffington in her book Thrive: The Third Metric To Defining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder, "I’m convinced of two fundamental truths about human beings. The first is that we all have within us a centered place of wisdom, harmony, and strength….The second truth is that we’re all going to veer away from that place again and again and again."

Wisdom requires us to disconnect from our devices and reconnect with ourselves, with our gut. "Being connected with our wisdom means being disconnected from the cacophony of the noise of technology," said Huffington. "We need to prioritize what is important to do and if it's not important to give our full attention, let's cut it out."

The final pillar of leadership success is the ability to show empathy and give to others. No on understands this more than association and nonprofit executives, who are devoting their lives to the betterment of a profession, industry, or social cause.

What kinds of leaders are best equipped to guide associations in changing world? "Leaders need to see icebergs before they hit the Titanic; they need to see opportunities," said Huffington. To be in a position to do that, they need to be the best versions of themselves. They must be well cared for; they must be wise; they must appreciate the wonders of the world; and they must be generous to others.

Nicole Millman-Falk is President of Millman-Falk Communications, LLC, providing content development and strategic communication services for trade associations, professional societies, and donor-based organizations. In addition to her own company, she serves as Editor for Apogee Publications, which provides turnkey association newsletters, magazines, and membership directories. She is Editor of NYSAE's InView and is Chair of the Awards Committee. She can be reached at 201-652-1687;; or through her website at