Stewart Friedman is the author of the recently published book, Total Leadership (Harvard Business Press, 2008), and Practice Professor of Management, and Director, Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. He is also the former director of the Ford Motor Leadership Development Program. http://www.totalleadership.org
Ivey Business Journal: Why did you write this book?
Stewart Friedman: In my teaching and consulting work it I’ve see how much more important it is for people to live a full and meaningful life. At the same time I’ve seen how difficult it is for most people to do that. People want to improve their performance in all four domains of their lives – work, home, community and private self – but life has become far too stressful for them to be able to improve performance in those domains. In my research and consulting, and in the classroom, I’ve come to believe that it is possible to integrate the different parts of your life – to create value among them – in ways that you probably didn’t think of before. In turn, better performance in each domain is based on 3 principles: be real, that is act with authenticity, be whole or act with integrity, and be innovative or act with creativity. So the reason I wrote this book is to help people integrate those four domains and to exercise total leadership.
IBJ: How is total leadership relevant to a person’s performance at work?
SF: If you start from the premise that trust is the glue that holds the organization together – and it is – you have to understand that it is very important for people – especially managers – to be real at work. They have to convey what they care about, where they are coming from and where they want to go, and look for opportunities to share those things with their co-workers. You do that articulating what you care about, identifying the critical events that have shaped you and your values, and by articulating your vision, say for the next 15 years. When you act authentically, and are candid and revealing, to the degree that’s appropriate in a specific cultural connect, you connect with people and that is what build trust.
IBJ: There’s a certain cognitive dissonance at play here, between how people act at home and how they act at work. How can you resolve that conflict?
SF: That’s a real problem and one that causes a lot of pain. It’s also a problem that’s very difficult to solve. The four circles on the cover of the book represent the four domains. The ideal is represented on the spine of the cover, four circles that are very closely aligned, if not concentric. Ideally, a person feels a sense of ease about how all those circles fit together. A good part of this lies in being real, and one very effective way to do that is to clarify what’s important to you. The book has a number of exercises that can help people do that.
IBJ: Total leadership sounds very similar to work-life balance. Is it?
SF: No, it’s different. The term “work-life balance” conveys trade offs. One side is always getting heavier so you’re always looking for trade offs for the sake of finding equilibrium. You’re always sacrificing something. But total leadership is about harmonizing the four different domains of your life. Think of it like a jazz quartet, where the four different domains are represented by the piano, bass, drums and horn. You want to achieve harmony where all four play at once, not a balance in which each instrument is allocated a certain amount of time or where one or another plays longer or shorter to compensate for a certain imbalance.
IBJ: Soft skills have come to be recognized as very important in a leader. Is too much value assigned to their importance?
SF: I don’t think so. There is a mounting body of evidence that shows that the soft stuff is really the hard stuff. You can either be good or not good at getting things done through and with other people. There was a certain amount of skepticism about soft skills in the eighties and nineties but you can’t be dismissive of them today. I mean just look at the explosion of interest in things like the corporate university and leadership development today. Programs like that support the importance of soft skills today.
IBJ: What kind of impact does that have on people’s performance?
Well, it’s ironic that one of the results is actually spending a little less time at work or thinking about their work. But the fact is that this is leading people to perform better in all four domains. That’s because they’re using their time and attention more intelligently. There are exercises in the book that show you how to do that, but basically they are doing more of the things that matter to them and to the people around them. They do what they are passionate about and they do what they care about.