How MBAs Can Lead The Life They Want


“If you want to be successful, you have to make sacrifices.”

Remember that advice? It probably came from a well-worn, well-meaning mentor. He’d reached the summit, garnering the accolades bestowed upon a man who’d made decisive choices. But if you’d ask him if it was all worth it, he’d respond with the most damning of answers…

“I don’t know.”

Looking ahead in your career, you already know the pitfalls, the tradeoffs that leave you asking, “who am I disappointing” and “what am I missing?” You’ve watched your peers, overwhelmed, exhausted, and stretched thin, racing around to “have it all.” In the end, some are just left with guilt and even more questions. Even those who seek a work/life balance seem disappointed, still unable to “get it all done” despite scaling back and drawing boundaries.

Whether you live with “only an accelerator and no brake” or compartmentalize your work, family, and spiritual existence, you’ll eventually face a harsh reality: All aspects of your life intersect and feed into each other. Whether you stubbornly focus on one area or cling to balancing all areas, you’ll eventually face your limits. Along the way, you may lose your identity and alienate loved ones.


That’s one of the messages in Stewart D. Friedman’s new book Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life. Friedman, the Wharton School’s Practice Professor of Management, heads the school’s Work/Life Integration Project along with teaching his wildly popular MOOC “Better Leader, Richer Life.” Building off his Total Leadership best-seller, Friedman answers the question dogging the 21st century overachiever: “How can you have a substantial impact without making major sacrifices in your personal and family life?”

The book is based on Friedman’s research and in-depth interviews with six people who epitomize integrating his three leadership principles – to be real, whole, and innovative – to create what he calls “four way wins” in your work, home, community, and family life. Rather than accomplishing big things at the expense of the rest of what’s important to you, Friedman urges you to first step back and examine your life. Recognize how each domain overlaps and shapes the others. Identify your values and passions so you can find (or create) work that supports them. Learn what’s important to others – and how you can help them get what they need from you. Set clear and reasonable expectations and take incremental steps toward your goals. And keep asking yourself, “How can I get better?”

“I believe that truly great leaders found a way to harmonize the different parts of their lives and that this harmony had a synergistic effect,” Friedman writes. “Harmony begot more harmony and, even more important, the achievement of meaningful goals. What ensued was not only fortune and fame, but also the deeply personal rewards of a good life . . . By choosing to do what they really care about, they have built not resumes, and not necessarily great fortunes, but lives that matter.”

Friedman illustrates how to create this harmony and purpose through his in-depth profiles of six leaders, who come from all walks of life. He begins with Tom Tierney, a former CEO of Bain & Company and the co-founder of The Bridgespan Group social impact consultants. Tierney applies his discipline, curiosity, and philanthropic mindset to helping firms that serve people with low incomes. Friedman follows with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who once lived with nagging doubt and guilt of being a “fraud,” only to emerge as a leader who learned to “take a seat at the table.”


Friedman continues with Eric Greitens, head of The Mission Continues and a former Navy SEAL whose service toward veterans was inspired by Bosnians who epitomized resilience and compassion despite losing everything to war. In addition, Friedman profiles Michelle Obama for setting boundaries and remaining grounded, and former U.S. soccer Olympian Julie Foudy, for bucking the status quo to make athletic funding and resources more gender-equitable for future athletes. Finally, Friedman sits down with Bruce Springsteen, a true storyteller who channeled his social alienation into his music, to foster hope, raise consciousness, and inspire dialogue between people worldwide.

To complement these profiles – and reinforce their lessons – Friedman also includes a series of exercises that you can use to help readers link their values with action; identify passions and priorities; gain insight from those crucible experiences that resonate with you today; identify opportunities where you can better serve and enrich the lives of others for mutual gain; and resolve conflicts in the various dimensions of your life.

For Friedman, the book’s reward came more from the journey than the final product. For nearly 30 years, Friedman has probed the question, “What does it take to bring together the different parts of life in mutually enriching ways?” As he neared the conclusion, he came to a more spiritual answer. “I am more convinced now that significant achievement in the world results from consciously compassionate action, from using one’s talents to make the world somehow better,” he writes in the conclusion of his book. “It’s a paradox: leading the life you want requires striving to help others.”

Here is Poets&Quants’ exclusive interview with Stewart Friedman.

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