Stewart D. Friedman on “Leading the Life You Want”: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

friedman-1In 1984, Stew Friedman joined Wharton, where he is the Practice Professor of Management. In 2001, he concluded a two-year assignment (while on academic leave) at Ford Motor Company, as the senior executive for leadership development.

Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life was published in 2008. Stew’s more recent book is Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life (Harvard Business School Press 2014), a Wall Street Journal bestseller. His Total Leadership program is used worldwide, including by the 100K+ students in his MOOC. The New York Times cited the “rock star adoration” he inspires in students. He was chosen by Working Mother as one of America’s 25 most influential men to have made things better for working parents, by Thinkers50 as one of the world’s top 50 business thinkers, and by HR Magazine as one of the Most Influential Thinkers 2014. The Families and Work Institute honored him with a Work Life Legacy Award. Follow on LinkedIn and Twitter @StewFriedman and tune in to Stew’s show, Work and Life, on SiriusXM 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton, Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m. (ET).

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Morris: Before discussing Leading the Life You Want, a few general questions. First, why was the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project founded in 1991?

Friedman: We wanted to understand how students and alumni think about and value their various life domains; to help people learn about the consequences of their choices for how they use their time and resources in various life domains through new course material; to have an impact on corporate and social policy based on our findings; and to contribute to the science of organizational psychology. In 1991 very little was being done in this field.

[For more information about the Project, please click here.]

Morris: To what extent (if any) has its original mission since changed? Please explain.

The mission hasn’t changed, but the landscape has altered dramatically. I am very gratified to have lived to see a revolution in the field of work/life: Everyone – men and women, employees and employers – now has this issue top of mind.

Morris: In your opinion, what are the most significant changes that have occurred in the U.S. workplace during (let’s say) the last 3-5 years? Why?

To name just a few: Women make up half our workforce and this has an impact at home on spouses and children. This means the workplace must change because women – who have historically been the primary caregivers at home – are now fully in the workforce and here to stay. Young men now want to be caregivers as well as earners so they have joined with women in demanding a different compact at work; they want flex and time for family too. Technology has changed everything. Having a 9-to-5 workday in which work is left behind when one leaves the office is no longer the norm as employers expect employees to be available outside of work. These factors have created new pressures and new opportunities.

Morris: A number of major research studies conducted by reputable firms such as Gallup and Towers Watson indicate that, on average, less than 30% of the workforce in a U.S. company is actively and productively engaged; the others are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged, working to undermine the success of their company. Whatever the percentages, there is a serious problem. How do you explain that?

Friedman: When employers no longer offer secure full-time employment with benefits, then it’s hard to expect employees to be loyal, engaged, and maximally productive. And people of all ages, but especially young people, require work that as meaning, or social value. Since they’re not getting the kind of long-term guarantees of yore, they’re willing to job hop to find the right fit. Firms that fully embrace the needs and interests of the whole person will win today’s competition for the best talent.

Morris: How best to increase the percentage of those who are actively, positively and productively engagement?

Friedman: Invest in helping people know what matters to them and who matters to them (and why), and encourage them to continually experiment with how they get things done in ways the serve their interests and yours as an employer. I call this the pursuit of “four-way wins” – and the Total Leadership approach, which I created over 15 years ago while running leadership development for Ford Motor, is a proven, systematic method for realizing its promise.

Morris: In your opinion, is there also a problem with [begin italics] supervisor [end italics] engagement? Please explain.

Friedman: People at all levels and in all roles in organizations are wrestling with the challenges of modern life, trying to find ways to create harmony among the different parts of their lives while aiming to achieve their goals and live with purpose. The principles that apply to engagement for employees are the same as those that apply to supervisors.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Friedman: I agree wholeheartedly. Skilled leaders focus on “we,” not “me.”

Morris: From Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

Friedman: Change is surely the order of the day. In my talks in organizations around the world I ask, “What kind of leadership do we need now?” The most common responses are “adaptable,” “flexible,” and “innovative.” This isn’t surprising, in light of how fast and overwhelming is the pace of change in our world. The Total Leadership approach is a means for learning how to intelligently and rapidly innovative, with an emphasis on creating meaningful change that works not just for your business life, but for all aspects of your life.

Morris: From Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd….’”

Friedman: Yes! Curiosity about the world and questioning of the status quo to open minds to alternative visions of the future are essential leadership skills. And they can be learned. Our Total Leadership Skills Assessment (available free by clicking here), brings this important issue to light and the report you receive after completing it gives some guidance on how to do so, drawing on material from my recent book.

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Friedman: Absolutely. That’s why in my work with clients and students we begin with exercises that help people articulate what it means for them to act with authenticity by clarifying what’s important –your vision and your values. Knowing what matters most, what I call “being real,” is the alpha and omega for leaders.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'” Your response?

Friedmnan: In my teaching and consulting practice, I encourage people to learn to experiment with confidence and to see themselves as scientists in the laboratory of their lives, continually trying new ways to pursue what matters most to them and to the people who depend on them. Smart, small wins are crucial to this approach, as is devoting time and attention to reflecting on what works and what doesn’t. The only failure is the failure to learn from conscious and deliberate efforts to make things better, even if those attempts fall short of the mark.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Friedman: Absolutely! Indeed, this is one of the skills I discuss in Leading the Life You Want. Sheryl Sandberg, one of the six great leaders I profile in this book, is an excellent exemplar of this skill of using stories to convey one’s values and build trust.

Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?

Friedman: The key to overcoming resistance to change is to frame your actions and continually adjust them as you move forward to so that those who might be affected by any changes see them as useful and beneficial for them. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. You just have to be vigilant in paying attention to how you’re influencing the lives of people who matter.

Morris: In recent years, there has been criticism, sometimes severe criticism of M.B.A. programs, even those offered by the most prestigious business schools. In your opinion, in which area is there the greatest need for immediate improvement? Any suggestions?

Friedman: The more attention we can devote to helping developing leaders tune in to their core values – drawing on their real experience and their true aspirations in life – the more likely it is they’ll make smart choices about how and where to invest their talents.

Morris: Looking ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Any advice?

Friedman: Boundaries are shifting between work and the rest of life for men and for women at different life stages. Work is becoming home and home is becoming work. The progressive CEOs who grasp this emergent reality and adjust to embrace it will be at a competitive advantage in the marketplace for talent.

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You can follow Stew on Twitter and on LinkedIn. Tune in to his show Work and Life on SiriusXM 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School, Tuesdays 7:00 PM EDT.

He cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Total Leadership link

Wharton Work/Life Integration Project link

His Amazon link

His Wharton faculty page link

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