Following are excerpts from a CNBC interview with Tania Bryer and Arianna Huffington from the World Economic Forum 2017.
TB: Arianna, thank you so much for joining us here for CBNC. Now, of course, the theme, responsive and responsible leadership. What does that mean to you, yourself, first?
AH: Well, first of all, I must say, it's great to be here with you, and it's great to be in this absolutely beautiful, spectacular space. So for me, responsive and responsible leadership means being conscious of the great challenges we are facing, and not just recognizing what needs to be done, but actually taking steps to do it. Because I think one of the main problems we are facing is that leaders have been aware for many years now of the destabilizing impact of globalization and automation, the fact that the benefits, which are significant, were very unequally distributed. The dangers of growing inequalities. And, on the climate change front, again, people have been very aware of the dangers of climate change. But being aware of the dangers has not led to significant progress, and as a result, we've seen what's been happening around the world with the election results, so I think it's time to realize that we have been drowning in data and starved for wisdom, and we have an enormous amount of incredibly smart, brilliant leaders, who are not wise enough to actually move from knowing what to do to doing it. And I'm absolutely thrilled to have, in the front row, Reverend Tenzin, who runs the MIT Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Leadership, and he and I were in Dharamsala together, visiting the Dali Lama, and I think bringing together the kind of tenets that he works on about leadership, and the kind of urgency when it comes to the problems we are facing is going to be very important.
TB: So what qualities, Arianna, do you think these, our leaders, need to have, to bridge these divides, culturally, economically? We're seeing so much divisiveness, as you've said.
AH: I think it's going to be key for our leaders to be able to have the courage to implement changes that maybe challenge the status quo, and to recognize that at this time, if we don't, we are basically going to be faced with dangers that are unprecedented. So I think that may lead to a greater action, as opposed to simply discussing these things. You know, how many conferences have we all been, on inclusive capitalism, on just capitalism? It's time to move from debating to acting.
TB: But Arianna, that is the criticism that is facing Davos itself, isn't it? That it's too elite. That you have the rich in a place talking about the poor. Yes, everyone is discussing inequality, but how can anything be done here? And it's facing more and more criticism, do you think it's fair?
AH: I think having people here together, engaged in the discussions that have been engaged in, is very useful and very productive, provided that we also follow it up with action, and I think Davos has been ahead of its time in identifying trends. I, for example, was invited here in 2005 for the first time, just as I had founded the Huffington Post, and that was kind of very, very ahead of recognizing the importance of new media. Now, over the last three years, there has been a whole track in Davos, about 'mindful' leadership, about leaders being able to have time to reflect, and to make wiser decisions, and there is a lot this year on this theme. I think that is very important, so Davos is not just dealing with the obvious leaders of today, but identifying leaders of tomorrow, as they are doing with the Global Shapers programme, with the young global leaders, so there is a lot of very positive stuff that's happening.
TB: You've said you've been coming here since 2005, so have you seen actual results, actual actions from year to year discussions?
AH: I've seen a lot in this field of recognizing new media ahead of time, recognizing the need for mindful and reflective leadership ahead of time, and basically giving those trends credibility. I think the area where we need, as we said at the beginning, more urgent action, is the area of growing income inequalities, climate change, these big challenges of the 21st century that we need to bring a greater sense of urgency to.
TB: I want to talk now about some of your own personal challenges. Of course we know you from the Huffington Post, you sold that to AOL, and you now have started a new business, Thrive Global, but it came from something that happened to you. What happened?
AH: Yes, well, in 2007, two years into building the Huffington Post, I collapsed from exhaustion, burnout and sleep deprivation. I hit my head on the way down, broke my cheekbone. And that was the beginning of my realizing that millions of us are living under the collective delusion that we need to burn out in order to succeed. And I started studying the subject, which led to books, Thrive and after that, the Sleep Revolution, and I was amazed to read the science, the latest science, that shows unequivocally, that since the Industrial Revolution, we've been living under this delusion that burnout is necessary to succeed. That human beings can minimize downtime the way we try to do with machines. When in fact, as scientists will tell us, the human operating system needs downtime. We need time to unplug, recharge, sleep deeply. And so I became so passionate about the topic that I decided to leave the Huffington Post in September, after 11 years of running it and even though I love it like a third child, I have two daughters and the Huffington Post, because I want to go beyond speaking and writing, to actually helping companies and individuals make these changes that can lead to more responsive and responsible leadership. Because when we are not running on empty, we are actually more connected with our own wisdom, we make better decisions, and we are more productive and effective.
TB: Was it a difficult decision for you to leave the Huffington Post after all those years? And of course it has your name, and you founded it.
AH: It was difficult, but the minute I made it, it seemed inevitable. And also, I've been so absorbed in this new company, this new media platform, which deals entirely with this one topic. So we both bring together all the latest science on the topic, and also new voices, to create new role models. For example, Jeff Bezos, writing about how, the title of his piece was, 'Why my getting eight hours of sleep is good for Amazon shareholders.' So that changes, you know, the way leaders see taking care of themselves. Because taking care of themselves makes them better leaders. And that was always known in the past. FDR, for example, when he had to make a big decision about entering the war, and while the American public was dead against it, what he did was take ten days off on a naval ship, to think. Now, this would be unheard of, today-,
TB: Yes, of course.
AH: And then he came up with this great idea of the land lease programme, which made it possible to sell entering the war to the American people. So we need that kind of reflection, that leads to wisdom, and we know that when people are burnt out and running on empty, they're only going to be thinking short-term about their own survival.
TB: But how do people do it, let's say, in a place like Davos, Arianna? I mean, you've been here year after year, you've said that there's so much to do on the schedule, there are so many things, people feel they have to be in every single place, everyone is working hard. So how do they put that into practice, in reality?
AH: Well, first of all, it has to start before Davos. Davos is the ultimate test. It's hard to start new practices in Davos. But if you-, if you start pre-Davos, I would say the most important tiny little microstep, advice I would give, and it's all about microsteps, is to make sure that you never charge your phone by your bed.
TB: Okay, put the phone away, yes.
AH: Okay? There has to be a clear demarcation line between your day life and your night life, when you are going to disconnect from the world and really deeply recharge. Now, that takes discipline, because let's face it, we are all addicted to our devices, we are all addicted to being always on. So what happens now is people wake up in the middle of the night, and they, often, if they can't go back to sleep, go immediately to their phones, and that interrupts the process of really recharging. In fact, with Thrive Global, as well as the media platform, we have a commerce platform, and we created our first product, it was a charging station that looks like a bed for your phones, so people can learn through the ritual of putting their phones to bed outside their bedrooms, there is a little sheet that you tuck the phones in, you say goodnight, and I promise, you are going to find them again in the morning.
TB: But do you think corporations, companies, employees, will they do it, though? Aren't they worried to be disconnected?
AH: Well, you know, what is amazing is that we are working with some major, multinational companies, because the third pillar of my new company is to work with corporations, to help them change the culture, so that they don't have the high healthcare cost that they have now because of burnout and disengagement, higher productivity, and better retention. So we work, for example, with Accenture, and we are working with them all around the world, in India, in Ireland, in-, right now actually we are doing training in Bangalore, and what we are finding is that when you measure the impact, we are working with the Wharton school to measure the impact on healthcare costs, on retention, on productivity, of people prioritizing their own wellbeing, then it's a no-brainer, because it has a positive impact on the bottom line. So this is not a soft benefit. It actually affects the health of the company. We did an amazing 28-day challenge at JP Morgan, which was initiated by the C-suite, by their CMO, by their general counsel, and the challenge was to ask all their global employees, over 350,000, to pick one of four things to work on. Sleep, unplugging from technology, mindfulness and gratitude. I actually found it incredibly significant that a major bank was taking these things seriously enough to go beyond the HR department, to actually endorse them from the top, and invite their employees to participate, because employees need to feel they have permission to prioritize these things.
TB: I'm going to give you a personal challenge now, Arianna. I want to know how much sleep you got last night.
AH: Okay. I'm so grateful to say I got eight hours sleep.
TB: How do you do it?! When you know-, aren't you listing the things what you have to do?
AH: No, I'll tell you what, so I'll tell you exactly how I did it. I did a great panel for the Financial-, The Financial Times and Wipro had a panel I participated in, and on the panel was a man, Kai-Fu Lee, a Chinese technology leader who had been president of Google in China, and in 2013 he was diagnosed with China, and he wrote this amazing piece to his 50 million followers on Chinese Twitter, about how he had lived his life wrongly, and how as now he was potentially facing death, he realized that he didn't have to always put his work first, to deprioritize his sleep, and he in fact could have found a different way to do it. And he survived, and then wrote another book called Finding Life in Death, which is an amazing book. So after the panel, I had a private conversation with him because I had never really spent a lot of time with him, but I had written about him in Thrive, as a role model of a new way to live. And so I was really energized, I got to my hotel, skipping possible nightcaps, you have to sacrifice something, and then I had about 250 emails in my inbox-,
TB: Did you look at them?
AH: So that's the key. I did not look at them, because the minute you look at them it's over. You know, you are reengaging with your life in New York.
TB: But what if they're urgent? What if the Presidents, the Prime Ministers, they're looking for you, they're asking you something?
AH: So here's the thing. We have to stop living in a place of FOMO, you know, fear of missing something. I have two daughters, and you know, I find millennials, especially, are always in a permanent state of FOMO, and I really think that as a result, we are missing something infinitely more important, which is the connection with ourselves, and the fact that I woke up completely recharged, I'm so happy to be here with you. I'm not just checking the box of my CNBC interview. I'm really present, I'm enjoying it.
AH: And I find that at some point in life, it shouldn't just be enough to check the boxes, to go through your list of things. We can all do that, even if we are exhausted, right?
TB: But you're talking about advice you give to your daughters, you're talking about the millennials. So let me take you back to the young, or younger, Arianna. Brought up, you were born in Greece, you went to study at Cambridge-,
AH: I knew your dad-,
TB: You knew my late father, along the way, and then you ended up in New York. Were you always so driven?
AH: So yes, in fact the advice I am giving is for people who are driven. It's for people who are in the arena. It's for people who want to achieve. This is not advice for people who want to chill under a mango tree, they don't need me. So my point is that when we do these things that I'm talking about now, we are more effective, we are more productive. Look at athletes. Athletes are increasingly prioritizing their wellbeing, their sleep, their meditation, because it makes them better on the court and in the field, so my advice to my younger self would have been to worry less and sleep more.
TB: And what were you like then?
AH: Because I basically did a lot of things wrong, and you say, of course, you can still succeed while you are doing things wrong, I'm not saying you can't, but you are paying a price. You are paying a price in terms of your health, in terms of your relationships, in terms of bringing joy to your life. And I now have a little saying on my desk that says, 'Life is a dance between making it happen and letting it happen.'
TB: What was the biggest lesson you think you learnt, growing up?
AH: So for me, the biggest lesson, which, really, I owe to my mother, is to accept failure as part of the journey to success. That everybody who has succeeded has failed along the way, and failure is totally fine. My mother used to say, 'Failure is not the opposite of success, it's a stepping stone to success.' And that allowed me to take risks, and to fail along the way. One day we should do a conversation about our failures, because I think that makes it okay for people, a lot of younger people to realize that it's not a problem to fail.
TB: I just want to ask you now, because you talked about, obviously, the Huffington Post, and even though you're not there anymore, I'm sure that you're a very keen observer of what's happening in the news in terms of social media and 'fake news'. So what are the challenges now with fake news? How do media organizations overcome that?
AH: Well, we have the challenge that people now trust their peers more than they trust established media institutions, and that more and more people, over half the people get their news from social media. But also it's very important to remember that fake news is not a new phenomenon. Let me take you back to the year before the invasion of Iraq. The fake news then was on the front page of the New York Times, in stories by Judith Millar about the weapons of mass destruction programmes in Iraq, all of them entirely fake. And then they were amplified on the morning Sunday shows by administration officials.
TB: But at the time they were reporting on what they were being told by the administrator.
AH: But that's fake news, because becoming a mouthpiece for the administration is promoting fake news, and look at what it led to. It led to the most tragic foreign policy mistake of the western world in our lifetime, because a lot of the consequences that followed, that we are reading about every day in the papers now, including ISIS, were a result of that incredible destabilization of the region, because of the invasion of Iraq, based on entirely fake news. We should never forget that.
TB: So we've talked about that relationship with fake news and the administration that you're saying, Arianna, but what about the administration now in the US, with President Trump? Because there's the fake news, or is there, the dossier that's being talked about, the relationship that he's having now with media outlets, it's unprecedented. He's accusing networks, and it's never happened before. What do you make of it?
AH: Well, two things. First of all, Donald Trump should be separated from his phone at night, get a good night's sleep and stop tweeting in the middle of the night.
TB: Yes, because he's tweeting at 3am.
AH: Exactly. He is the poster child of sleep deprivation. He's exhausted-,
TB: How do you think it's affecting him?
AH: It's definitely, you can see it's affecting him.
TB: In what way?
AH: It's affecting him in the sense that even after he won, he was basically taking the bait, constantly. You would have thought after you win, you can just relax, you're on top of the world, you're going to be President of the United States in a few days, and it's really the opposite of my greatest hero. Marcus Aurelius, who was Emperor of Rome, and a stoic philosopher, and really these are, like, two examples, polar opposites of leadership. One is kind of unflappable in the presence of any dangers, accusations, and leading from a very centered, responsible place. And the other, unfortunately, is being affected by every negative tweet and portrayal on Saturday Night Live that he doesn't like. Every little thing, kind of, makes him upset. And I promise you, if he got eight hours sleep, and did not tweet in the middle of the night, the next four years would be infinitely better for the world. So I highly recommend that his advisors take the phone away.
TB: Well, Arianna, do you think, would you tell him personally? It was interesting, because I did see some tweets that he directed at you personally back in 2012, and they were very harsh. They were real personal attacks on you.
AH: Ah, but that's his style, you know, that doesn't mean anything, you know, he always attacks people. I think, right now, I think he has an opportunity to tap into the best Donald Trump there
is. Because I think we all have the better angels of our nature, and the worst part of ourselves, and we all have an interest for him to tap into that part, because he is now the President, and I think it is incredibly important for people, good people, to accept to be in his administration, and I believe in that, because the more he is surrounded by people who can influence him in the right direction, the better off the world will be. And I also think, on behalf of the media, it's terribly important that they do not succumb to stories, and publish stories, as Buzzfeed did publish the dossier, before they verify them. Because otherwise, the media are going to lose their credibility when there are real stories they want to address, and they want to criticize the administration on. And so it's incredibly important that we don't fall into the trap of publishing unverifiable stories because they confirm a preconceived position we have.
TB: If you had been at the Huffington Post and the dossier had come out, would you have published it?
AH: Absolutely not, because nobody has been able to verify it. That's why CNN did not publish it, that's why the New York Times did not publish it. Otherwise we fall into the trap that happened during the Obama years, when the right wing press would publish anything against Obama. You know, that's how the birth controversy started, you know, he was not born in the United States, completely fake news that was published by his opponents, because they wanted to believe the worst about him.
TB: Arianna, do you think, going back to the theme of responsible leadership, President Trump will be a responsible leader?
AH: We do not know. We have a lot of reason to worry, and I believe now he needs to be judged by everything he does, and not by what he said during the campaign.
TB: And just finally, what's next for you, besides a good night's sleep tonight?
AH: Well, a great day ahead in Davos, that I'm really looking forward to, and I'm really looking forward to what's next for Thrive Global, we are expanding around the world, we just closed joint ventures in Italy, in India, with the Times of India, in South Africa, in Eastern Europe, in Russia, in Turkey. The stress and burnout pandemic is everywhere, it's truly global, and it's having a huge impact on both individual lives, corporations and companies. I mean, 75% of our healthcare costs are because of stress-related, preventable diseases. That is a stunning statistic. Hundreds of billions of dollars are basically the cost to corporations because of absenteeism, presenteeism, healthcare costs, disengaged employees, so we need to address this head on. It's a real public health crisis, and I'm definitely committed to devoting the rest of my life to it.
TB: Arianna Huffington, thank you so much for joining me today on CNBC.
AH: Thank you so much. Thank you.
TB: Thank you very much, thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, Arianna Huffington.