How MBAs Can Lead The Life They Want

 

Dr. Friedman in class

Dr. Friedman in class

P&Q: You profiled six leaders – ranging from Sheryl Sandberg to Bruce Springsteen – who’ve been able to create meaningful personal and professional lives. Which leader did you personally identify with most — and why?

Friedman: The person I am most like is Tom Tierney, in terms of his signature skills, his vision, [the kind of] legacy he wants to leave, his way of weaving the different strands of his life [together] and continuously looking for new ways of doing things, which is a strength of mine as well . . . The other reason why I [identify with Tierney) is because he is the most consciously persistent student of leadership that I have ever met . . . and I’ve met many, many great ones. I really value his insistence on continual learning, though all six of these people are exemplars in always being thirsty for new knowledge.

[Editor’s Note: Friedman encourages readers to take an assessment on this site to evaluate themselves in 18 skills to see which of the six leaders they are most like.]

P&Q: You base your Total Leadership program off three principles: To be real, be whole, and be innovative. Tell us a little about each and how they shape each of us.

Friedman: When we went out into real world to study this, how to lead a life we truly want and integrate the different parts of our lives, we found that people developed these skills that represent these three principles:

To Be Real: to act authentically and clarify what matters most to them. That’s your values, what you stand for, and your vision, where you want to go. So one way to think about your values is to think about your life history, your critical episodes that shape your values and beliefs.  Think about leadership story, where you come from, and how that has made you into the person you are.

On the flip side, look into the future and imagine 15 years from now. What does your day in the life look like? What are you doing? What is the impact that it has? It is those kinds of activities that we ask readers to do, exercises where you practice doing these very things. Understanding what you really care about – that is the anchor; that is the most essential aspect of this whole program of being a better leader.

The second part is To Be Whole. That’s integrity, respecting the whole person. That Latin root of “integrity” is ‘one.’ That comes to life primarily from thinking about, ‘Who are key people who matter most to me at work, home, career, school, family (however you define that), community (friends, neighbors, community groups), your role as a citizen, what have you. Then you have your private self – your mind, body, and spirit – recognizing all those key people, what do you expect of them [and what do they expect from you]. And then having a dialogue, about creating a better understanding of what you need from each other, to see where there is conflict and where there is compatibility between the different parts of your life and looking for ways to better align with what you care about and what you do with them every day.

And then there’s the third thing: To Be Innovative, to act with creativity by experimenting with ways of getting things done. There are all kinds of ways of taking a view of yourself as kind of a scientist, where your life is a sort of a laboratory. You try small changes to make things better for you and the people around you. I call those four way wins: What can you do – that’s within your control – to make things better for you and the other parts of your life? What I have found is that everyone can do this. They just don’t ask the question. That’s what I think is the book’s big contribution. It’s asking the question, “What can you do that’s going to make things better for your work, home, community, and self?”

P&Q: These days, you hear about the concept of work/life balance. You disagree with the concept. What structure would you apply to replace it and achieve the same basic results?

Friedman: If you are looking for balance, you’re going to be disappointed. I guarantee it because it doesn’t exist. It’s not possible. That’s a state of equilibrium where everything is how you want it in all the different parts of your life. That’s not going to happen.

What’s a better metaphor I have found – that resonates well all over the world – is a jazz player. Think of the different parts of your life as instruments in a jazz quartet. And if you think about the composition of beautiful music over the course of your life, not as any one moment, you may further think about how sometimes you only hear the trumpet. Sometimes, you hear the bass and the drums and none of the other instruments. They’re all playing together; they’re playing at different volumes. So it’s a matter of improvisation around a theme that emerges over time. You can’t have everything all at once all the time.

The problem with the metaphor of scales and balances is that it tells you to think in terms of trade-offs. At some points, it is necessary. But if your mindset is one of ‘What must I give up the rest of my life to be successful?” then that’s what you’re going to get. On the other hand, if you’re thinking, ‘What can I do that’s under my control that’s going make things better in the different parts of my life over time?’ you’re much more likely to find a sense of harmony.