There are few self-improvement gurus who focus on simplifying things and attainable goals. Tim Ferriss is one of them. He is the best-selling author of the “4-hour” series of books on increased productivity, physical health, and rapid learning. Beyond that, Tim is also an investor and advisor to some of the greatest brands of our time, including Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Evernote, Uber, and many others. Naturally, he has deep experience working with an increasingly young and agile leadership and new-age workplaces. This experience, combined with his relentless focus on simplification, makes a heady combination.
We ran through his work and his keynotes over the years for lessons for CEOs and leaders of the future. Here’s what we found:
For most of us, fear comes in the way of fresh experiences. But for CEOs, fear could mean the death knell for their businesses. From accepting the needs of a new generation of workforce and consumers to reinventing entire organizations, fearlessness is a key trait for new-age leaders. Look around: everything exciting about the world right now – from the startup revolution to raging feminism in all quarters – is because someone, somewhere was fearless enough to push the envelope. Tim is a strong advocate of fearlessness, and the trait features in many of his keynotes and TED Talks. He says, “What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”
But Tim also advocates a rational approach to risk-taking and fear. “I can trace all of my biggest wins and all of my biggest disasters averted back to doing fear-setting at least once a quarter. It’s not a panacea. You’ll find that some of your fears are very well-founded. But you shouldn’t conclude that without first putting them under a microscope. It doesn’t make all the hard times, the hard choices, easy, but it can make a lot of them easier.”
When you are at the top, it is easy to be flattered by yes-men or with people who are the exact replica of you in terms of ambitions, personalities, and professional backgrounds. This can be dangerous for personal growth and the ability to see fresh perspectives. Tim too advocates against it. He says, “You are the average of the five people you associate with most.”
According to Tim, the company you keep is crucial – whether it is to challenge your opinions or force you to rethink or improve your ideas. The corner office can often get insular and lonely – having the right company can make all the difference. Tim also believes that different people around you lend different attributes to your work and life, so keeping a good variety of people who push you to improve personally and professionally is crucial for leaders.
Many CEOs, especially if they are also founders, get emotionally involved in their businesses. For them, success and failure are both intensely personal, and exiting at the right time feels like a personal failure more than a professional setback. Tim believes that such deep levels of involvement can come in the way of success. You lose time, you lose money, and sometimes, you just get into a vicious circle of disappointments because you can’t take an objective decision about work. He says, “Being able to quit things that don’t work is integral to being a winner.”
Our culture glamourizes being busy. It seemingly indicates important work, power, and professional growth. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is that whether you are a fresher or occupy a corner office, chances are that your time is slipping through the cracks of endless meetings, overthinking, and unproductive work styles. Like many executive coaches, Tim too advocates a good work-life-balance and sound prioritization and not just pumping in the hours mindlessly. He believes that productivity far outweighs being busy. In his words, “Doing less is not being lazy. Don’t give in to a culture that values personal sacrifice over personal productivity.”
As much a sound piece of advice for new managers as it is for CEOs, Tim is of the opinion that it takes a culture of mutual trust for everyone to get their due share of responsibilities as well as downtime. His book The 4-Hour Workweek focuses a lot on using delegation to grow people and manage one’s time better. This becomes especially crucial for CEOs. Their smallest decisions can affect entire businesses and workforces. So keeping things authoritative and in control can seem enticing. However, empowering teams and close aides in decision-making adds new dimensions to their work. In Tim’s words, “It’s amazing how someone’s IQ seems to double as soon as you give them responsibility and indicate that you trust them.”
Naturally, Tim Ferriss has some great advice for leaders. His podcasts and books are virtually essential reading in our times when work culture is on the cusp of a change. Leaders are going to have to know how to grow their business and train and nurture their people even as they prepare for change.