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Forget Work-Life Balance to Lead the Life You Want

Forget Work-Life Balance to Lead the Life You Want

By: Connie Blaszczyk, Managing Editor, Monster Resource Center

Do your leadership skills generate the results you desire?  Do you dream of achieving something significant in your life’s work – something you can feel proud of – yet find yourself struggling to do so without shortchanging the people who count on you – including family and employees?

It turns out that many people struggle with finding a better work life balance, says Stewart Friedman, whose most recent book is Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014.)

As founding director of the Wharton Leadership Program and the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, Friedman redefines work-life balance and concentrates instead on creating a life that is "whole."   

In this Monster interview, Friedman provides valuable insights on how to live with passion, purpose and principle as you generate success. 

Monster: What inspired you to write Leading the Life You Want?

Friedman: The Total Leadership program, which I wrote about in a previous book, emphasized diagnosing, dialoguing, and discovering to create wins at work, at home, in the community and for the private self. 

When I bring the Total Leadership program to businesses, students, and others I am usually met with skepticism. I get this question a lot: How can you achieve real significance and impact without sacrificing your life? My new book is a response to that natural query. 

Monster: Everyone seems to struggle with finding harmony between work and the rest of life these days. Are we all simply busier than ever? 

Friedman: Societal expectations for men and women are changing – traditional norms are rapidly fading, leaving so many people confused, disappointed, or both, about gender roles. Both women and men are hungry for help in figuring out how to navigate the turbulent modern-day waters of meaningful work, domestic responsibility, community engagement, and satisfying inner life. No one seems to have the answers.

Monster: The book profiles six famous men and women whose lives are examples of a more integrated life, including Michelle Obama and Bruce Springsteen. What characteristics did you look for in selecting these individuals?

Friedman: For more than a decade I’ve been curating examples provided by Wharton students of luminaries whom they believe are exemplars of these three core principles of the Total Leadership approach: be real, be whole, and be innovative. I wanted to have a balance of men and women and a representation of various industries. 

Monster: What were some of the most meaningful life lessons that these individuals demonstrated in creating a better integration of work and life? 

Friedman: The big take-away from all the stories is that paradoxically, in order to lead the life you want to lead, you cannot be selfish or self-centered, you must bring others along, attend to what others need from you, and take your stakeholders’ needs into account, trying always to make the world better somehow. 

In other words, the common denominator is that serving others, in one capacity or another, allows you to live a meaning-filled life.

At the same time, economic pressures are forcing individuals, families, organizations, and communities to do more with less – or just to do less.

Monster: How much does fear – and a lack of trust – keep people from pursuing a better work-life balance?

Friedman: Fear is definitely a big part of it.  People are afraid of what their superiors or colleagues might say, and with good reason. There’ve been studies indicating that there’s a stigma and a penalty attached to work/flex. 

This is precisely why I advocate for taking small steps, for experimenting. It changes the game when you explicitly refer to proposed changes as experiments that will be evaluated to determine if they work for you, your boss, your co-workers, your family, or other stakeholders.

Monster: Does work become less of a priority as people create a better work-life balance?

Friedman: No, that’s exactly the wrong mindset; that’s the balance, trade-off, zero-sum mindset that I’ve been trying to de-bunk for decades. I’m talking about figuring out what’s essential to you and then investing in that in all parts of life, creating mutual value among them. 

Whatever you’re trying to do, it’s got to work for all the aspects of your life that matter, including and especially your work or career. 

Monster: Your book includes many exercises that focus on "being": being real, being whole and being innovative. Can you recommend one?

Friedman: One of my favorites is the Four Circles exercise in which you analyze all the roles that you play in each of the four main aspects of your life: work or school, family (however you define it), community (friends, neighbors, religious or social groups) and self (mind, body, spirit.) 

Draw four circles to represent each of the four domains and consider why your circles overlap or not and how this makes you feel. Compatibility among circles indicates "realness."

Monster: Should employers look to hire individuals who have a good work-life balance?

Friedman: Employers should be looking for people who are striving to live a full and meaningful life so they can sustain the energy and passion to invest at work. I recommend asking about prospective employees’ values and what they do to in seeking to align their actions with them. 

Monster: How can employers help their employees achieve a better work-life balance? 

Friedman: If you’re asking an employee to be at work from 8 to 8, but you’re not focusing on what they’re producing for you, then your employee is susceptible to burnout.

If instead you focus on producing a measurable result and you don’t care how, when, or where it’s done, that’s empowering and liberating for your employee and it’s sustainable. You’re not asking less, but you are often getting more! 

And with respect to modeling, check out my article, The Happy Workoholic: A Role Model for Employees. As long as executives understand that while they may want to be at work all the time, others may have other passions and responsibilities, and as long as executives focus on productivity and measurable results rather than on face time or other arbitrary measures that don’t affect the bottom line, then it’s not essential for executives living a “balanced” lifestyle. 

They need to be authentic – true to themselves.

 Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life by Stewart D. Friedman

Author Bio:
Stewart D. Friedman
is a professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and the founding director of the Wharton Leadership Program and Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project. He is the author of the national bestseller Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life (Harvard Business Review Press, 2008).