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  • Writer's pictureScott Behson

Dr. Stewart Friedman on Leading the Life You Want, Bruce Springsteen and Getting Yourself Unstuck

Dr. Stewart Friedman discusses his latest book

Dr. Stewart Friedman is the Practice Professor of Management at the Wharton Business school, the Founding Director of the Leadership Program and the Director of the Work/Life Integration Project, and the author of several books on leadership and work-life integration, most recently the excellent “Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life.” As one of the most prominent men in the field of Work/Life Integration, he has long been one of my role models. In fact, getting to know him over the past few years has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my foray into social media.

Dr. Friedman was kind enough to speak with me about his latest book. In it, he profiles successful people in business (former Bain CEO Tom Tierney and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg) public service (First Lady Michelle Obama and former Navy Seal and philanthropist Eric Greitens) and sports/entertainment (rock god Bruce Springsteen and US soccer champion Julie Foudy) as models for work-life success. He then leads the reader through assessments and exercises so they can apply those lessons to their own lives. Great stuff.

1. Since I’m a big fan, let’s start with the Boss. Can you discuss one important lesson we can learn from Bruce and apply to our own lives?

Springsteen communicates actively with key people in his life about what they need from each other.  He connects, by letting others know what matters to him (with his audience, his band, his family) and by listening intently to what matters to them.  This skill – clarifying expectations – involves both advocacy for your own point of view and inquiry about what others want.  And it’s a skill anyone can strengthen and use to affect better integration among the different parts of life.

2. Before your book, I was unfamiliar with Eric Greitens’ amazing story. Can you recap a few of his successes and what we can learn from him?

Greitens is a great example of someone who applies all his resources to get important things done.  This means taking what you’ve learned or somehow gathered in one part of your life and applying it in other life domains. Taking the lessons of experience from wherever you get them – whether it’s a ratty gym in the inner city of Durham or on the fields of battle—and then using them later in life by harvesting those skills and applying them to, for example, his founding The Mission Continues, is a great illustration.

Greitens used the attitude and skills he acquired as a boxer (in the domain of his private self) in his career as a military officer (his profession). Inspired by his grandfather’s stories, Greitens studied boxing with men who understood that the game was as much about physical training for technical excellence as it was about developing the psychological tools for winning combat. From boxing, Greitens learned that preparation is all, that one can and must remain calm in the face of fear, and that one should fight honorably.   These are examples of a skill we can all use for greater harmony among the different parts of our lives.

Springsteen can throw that speedball by ya, and teach us some lessons on work-life integration (photo: used under Creative Commons license)

Springsteen can throw that speedball by ya, and teach us some lessons on work-life integration (photo used under Creative Commons license)

3. You prefer the term work-life integration over work-life balance. Why?

In the early 1990’s, I founded the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project because even back then it was clear to me that balance was the wrong metaphor.  Many people believe that to achieve great things we must make brutal sacrifices; that to succeed in work we must focus single-mindedly, at the expense of self, family, and society. Even those who reject the idea of a zero-sum game fall prey to a kind of binary thinking revealed by the term we use to describe the ideal lifestyle: work/life balance.

“Work/life balance” is a misguided metaphor for grasping the relationship between work and the rest of life; the image of the scale forces you to think in terms of trade-offs instead of the possibilities for harmony. And the idea that “work” competes with “life” ignores the more nuanced reality of our humanity. It ignores the fact that “life” is actually the intersection and interaction of the four domains of life: work or school; home or family; community or society; and the private realm of mind, body, and spirit. Of course, you can’t have it all – complete success in all the corners of your life, all at the same time. No one can. But even though it can seem impossible to bring these four domains into greater alignment, it doesn’t have to be impossible. Conflict and stress aren’t inevitable. Harmony is possible.

4. You emphasize the need for people to innovate and embrace change in their lives. How does this specifically apply to work-life integration?

When you take small, manageable steps, aiming to increase business results and enrich your life by moving in a direction you choose, you build the confidence needed to take further steps in creating sustainable change. It could be anything – from exercising, to writing in a journal, to having lunch with friends and colleagues, to volunteering for a nonprofit, to delegating more, to working at home – any small step that holds the promise of producing value for all four domains, either now or in the future.

When your inspiration for innovation is what matters most to you (propelling persistence towards your goal), and your intention is to serve collective interests (engendering the trust and commitment you need from others) while learning through trial-and-error (unleashing your creativity), then anxiety, guilt and ignorance are less likely to rule the day, and your prospects for producing something new and useful brighten.

It takes leadership to overcome the natural fear of change – and the good news is that just about anyone can do it!

5. What specific advice would you have for a mid-career working dad who may feel stuck at work and prevented from being as involved a father as he would like to be?

In decades of work with thousands of people I’ve found that no matter what your unique circumstances, it is possible to get unstuck and that we, each of us, has more degrees of freedom than we believe we do.  It’s useful to think of these three steps:

Diagnose. Start by taking a minute to explore your personal four-way view — what’s important to you, where you focus your attention (your most precious asset as a leader), and how things are going in each of the four domains of your life. (You can use this free assessment tool and guide for help in doing so.) Then begin generating ideas for experiments you can try to better align what matters to you with what you actually do. It’s likely that this will mean attending to a non-work aspect of your life you’ve been neglecting.

Dialogue. Talk to a few of the most important people in the different parts of your life about what you really need from each other. These conversations serve to build trust and strengthen your future together, while you refine and expand your initial ideas about experiments to make things better in all four parts of your life.

Discover. Design an experiment in which you are deliberately aiming to improve your performance and results in each of the four domains — not to trade them off or to balance one against the other, but to enhance all of them. If you’re stuck, think a bit harder: I have coached and taught thousands of people to do this, and I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t come up with one such experiment about which they were very excited.

 Thank you so much.

What do you think about these lessons? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

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In 1984, Stew Friedman joined Wharton, where he is the Practice Professor of Management. In 1991, he founded both the Wharton Leadership Program and the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project. In 2001, he concluded a two-year assignment (while on academic leave) at Ford Motor, as the senior executive for leadership development. Stew’s most recent book is Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life (Harvard Business, 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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