Stewart D. Friedman on “Leading the Life You Want”: Part 2 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: When and why did you decide to write Leading the Life You Want?

Friedman: After I wrote Total Leadership, which I’m pleased to say was a bestseller is now in eight languages as well as paperback, I heard two persistent themes. Many thought it was impossible to have both a successful career and fulfillment outside of work; they were skeptical and needed convincing. Others were looking for a quicker fix; the Total Leadership program takes a significant investment of time.

This new book addresses both issues. I use short biographical profiles of people who – whether you like them or not – have achieved extraordinary success in their chosen careers and who have been able to lead rich and fulfilling lives. I chose them to demonstrate that this is possible, though it’s not to say we each all become superstars like them (including Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Sandberg, and Michelle Obama). The book also includes short, practical exercises for developing each of the 18 skills in our model; exercises that can be digested in any order and at any time, in contrast to Total Leadership’s programmatic, step-by-step approach.

This book offers a tasting menu. You can focus on honing your strengths or shoring up your weaknesses in your own way, with evidence-based exercises I’ve curated from the literature in organizational psychology and related fields.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Friedman: The most important insight for me in studying the lives of many great leaders, especially the six I ended up choosing to include in the book is how, contrary to common wisdom, career success comes as a result of the commitments we make to the other parts of our lives, not in spite of them. Family, community, and the realm of the private self – your mind, body, and spirit – are all important sources of the inspiration, support, and ideas we all need to lead the lives we want.

Morris: Why did you select “leading” rather than “living” when formulating the title of your latest book?

Stewart: “Leading” is about mobilizing people toward valued goals. My purpose is to help people understand that leadership skills are useful and relevant for pursuing meaningful aspirations in all aspects of life, and that this is a choice, a decision, not a default. One of the epigrams, a quote from Walt Whitman, speaks to this much more eloquently: “Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself. It is not far. It is within reach.”

Morris: How did you integrate the writing of this book with all your other activities and obligations, both at work and elsewhere?

Friedman: This book began to percolate as soon as Total Leadership was complete. I’ve been gathering biographies of leadership who illustrate its core ideas from my students at Wharton for a decade or so. So I’ve read hundreds of stories that show many different kinds of leaders exemplifying the principles of being real, being whole, and being innovative. Talking about these ideas and the methods for bringing them alive in venues worldwide, in organizations large and small, informed my thinking. So this project flowed naturally from my earlier work. I saw it as important for helping people see how they too could learn these principles and use them to make things better in their lives.

Morris: What did you learn about Stew Friedman while writing it that you did not know previously?

Friedman: When I was done, I felt an even deeper appreciation for the many gifts I’ve been given by my teachers and my students, and that’s why I dedicated this book to them.

Morris: For those who have not as yet read the book, you discuss six quite different people who serve as models for integrating work and the rest of life. Please suggest what you consider to be the unique skills of each of the six. First, Tom Tierney

Stewart: Tom Tierney, chairman and co-founder of Bridgespan and former CEO of Bain & Company is a master of envisioning your legacy, weaving the disparate strands of life, and seeing new ways of getting things done.

Morris: Sheryl Sandberg

Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, is a wonderful model for conveying values with stories, building supportive networks, and resolving conflicts among various life domains.

Morris: Eric Greitens

Stewart: Former Navy SEAL, Rhodes Scholar, founder of The Mission Continues, and current candidate for Governor of Missouri, he exemplifies holding oneself accountable, and applying resources from all parts of your life to achieve important goals, and focusing relentlessly on results.

Morris: Michelle Obama

Stewart: She is a powerful example of someone who has learned how to align her actions with her values, manage boundaries across domains of life, and embrace change courageously.

Morris: Julie Foudy

Stewart: Julie Foudy, the soccer great, is an Olympic gold medal winner and World Cup champion who became an advocate for empowering women. She is a paragon of knowing what matters, helping others and challenging the status quo.

Morris: Bruce Springsteen

Stewart: The Boss embodies his values consistently, clarifies expectations with his key stakeholders, and creates cultures of innovation.

Morris: However different they may be in most respects, what do they share in common?

Stewart: In order for each of them to find a way to lead they life they wanted to live, they had to discover their particular talent or passion or gift and use it to serve others. And none of them were born with these skills; they had to learn them through dedicated effort, just like the rest of us.

Morris: For those who read the book, what – in your opinion – are the most valuable life and work lessons to be learned that almost anyone can immediately apply?

Friedman: You really can choose to be the leader you want to be, in all parts of your life, if you take seriously the idea that there’s a purpose to your life worth pursuing because it matters not just to you but to others. Consciously and deliberating devoting effort to realizing this idea is ennobling, though never without some struggle.

Morris: In Chapter 7, you discuss “the worst thing that you can do.” What is it and why is it so self-defeating?

Friedman: I’m a humanist and an optimist. I believe each life has value and that we’re on this earth to leave it better than how we found it. I want people to take this to hear and to try as hard as they can to improve their capacity to do so. The worst thing you can do, despite the innumerable obstacles we confront, is to not try.

Morris: Which of the skills that will enable a person to be authentic seems to be the most difficult to master? Why?

Stewart: None of them are easy, but I find that many people have a hard time, at first, in painting a compelling image of an achievable future; to envision their legacy, that is. Often this is because they’re afraid to commit for fear of failure. But the act of envisioning is mainly useful as a means for identifying what matters most to you now.

Morris: Which of the skills that will enable a person to become whole seems to be the most difficult to master? Why?

Clarifying expectations by both letting others know what you need from them and listening with genuine interest to what they look to you for is quite daunting. Most people would rather avoid this, though they invariable feel better and act more intelligently once they start to practice this skill.

Which of the skills that will enable a person to become more innovative seems to be the most difficult to master? Why?

Stewart: People struggle most with seeing new ways of doing things and often need help in breaking through their tradition-bound mindsets.

Morris: Opinions are divided — sometimes sharply divided — as to whether or not work and other areas in one’s life can be balanced or, as you suggest, be in harmony. I am convinced they can be. However, I think the great challenge is being both willing and able to adjust the proportions of resources allocated (especially time, attention, and energy) to the given circumstances. Sometimes family obligations have a higher priority. Other times work obligations do. What are your own thoughts about all this?

Stewart: I’ve been writing for decades that balance is an inapt metaphor as it necessarily entails tradeoffs. If you’re searching for “work/life balance” you’ll always be disappointed because “balance” connotes a zero-sum equation. But if you shift your mindset to asking “How can I initiate change that’s good for my family, and my community, and my career, and my private self (mind, body and spirit)? then you are more likely to produce harmony in your life, over the course of your life. No one can have it all, at the same time. I’ve never seen that. Continual improvisation on a theme is a more useful way to think of how to bring the various parts of life together. Instead of the metaphor of scales in balance, I prefer the idea of a jazz quartet: you’re trying to make music that feels and sounds good, and sometimes you only hear the trumpet or just the bass and piano. Sometimes all four are playing at the same time, but perhaps at different volume.

Morris: Quite a controversy resulted from Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article for The Atlantic (“Why Women Can’t Have It All,” July/August 2012). Steven Wright agrees: “Obviously you can’t have it all. Where would you put it?” Here’s my two-part question for you: What is the key issue to be addressed, and, what should be taken into full account when considering it?

Stewart: I wrote a piece addressing this for Harvard Business Review in June 2012 just after that article was published titled “Having It All” Is Not a Women’s Issue.” We all want to have a rich and meaningful work life and a fulfilling life beyond work. At the individual level, you need to examine what you truly value, share this with key stakeholders in various life domains both to get feedback and support, and then to experiment with new ways of doing things so that – over the arc of a life – you can achieve harmony and have more of what it is that you uniquely want out of life. But there are many structural changes, both in organizational practice and social policy, that must also change to enable men and women to have the freedom and support to pursue the lives they want to lead. Fortunately, many more people are today engaged in these efforts than when started working on this issue decades ago.

Morris: In your opinion, which of the principles of Total Leadership are most relevant to efforts integrate one’s work and other areas of one’s life?

Stewart: The entire Total Leadership program is about building a richer life more in line with your own values and increasing your performance as a result. The principles are being real, acting with authenticity by clarifying what’s important to you; being whole, acting with integrity by seeing how the different parts of your life and the people in them affect each other; and being innovative, acting with creative to take small steps toward finding four-way wins.

Morris: To what extent are the same principles relevant to helping others to do so? Parents helping their teenage children, for example, and supervisors helping their direct reports.

Stewart: It’s the same process. Highschoolers, college students, employees at all levels and retirees have all used this same basic model. Many people, having learned how to practice and apply these skills for themselves, go on to teach others. And of course that’s the best way to continue to learn anything: Try to teach it!

Morris: Of all the feedback you have received thus far from those who have read the book, what has surprised you most? Please explain.

Stewart: People identify with different aspects of the protagonists’ lives and in ways I wouldn’t have expected. Some men, for example, have told me how the Sheryl Sandberg profile has helped them to see new opportunities for how they can support the women in their lives. Others have said that the Bruce Springsteen story opened their eyes to finding inspiration and insight from people they might not have thought about as leaders.

Morris: Of all the great leaders throughout history, with which one would you most want to share an evening of conversation if it were possible? Why?

Friedman: I’m sure I’d learn a lot from talking to Moses, especially because he wrestled mightily with the very idea of leading.

Morris: Let’s say that a CEO has read and then (hopefully) re-read Leading the Life You Want and is now determined to establish or strengthen a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive. Where to begin?

Aside from offering training for her people in how to adopt the principles of methods I’ve been describing here, perhaps the most powerful means for getting things moving is to undertake a couple of experiments designed to pursue four-way wins – improved performance for work, home, community, and self – and to not only let others know she’s doing this but to ask them what they’re doing to innovate toward the same goal but in ways that are best suited to their lives. The last of the 18 skills in our model is about creating cultures of innovation (illustrated so well by Springsteen), and modeling is essential to making it happen in your organization.

Morris: For more than 25 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with the owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies, those with $20-million or less in annual sales. In your opinion, of all the material you provide in Leading the Life You Want, which do you think will be of greatest value to leaders in small companies? Please explain.

Friedman: I’ve had the pleasure of bringing the stories and tools in this book to many small businesses since its publication and I’ve found it resonates really well with these kinds of organizations because it doesn’t take much to get started, to use it, and begin to see results fast. The evidence-based exercises in the book are practical and compelling and when people choose to try one, they experience an increased sense of confidence and optimism. Small business owners benefit by providing this kind of resource to their people.

Morris: Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

Friedman: I had hoped you’d ask about what it’s like to host my radio show, Work and Life, on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. My response would have been “It’s a ton of fun and I hope you’ll tune in!” I’ve been on the air for over two years and have had an amazing array of guests – CEOs, researchers, policy advocates, HR pros, and everyday people – talking about ideas you can use to create more harmony in your life.

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Here is a direct link to Part 1 of of this interview.

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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