When Stew Friedman and I first met, he shared his life’s work, to design places of work that work for us humans. We talked long into the night. Last week, Harvard Press released Stew’s latest’s ideas into the world, entitled Leading the Life You Want (link to buy). It holds some wisdom for how to navigate the social era, powerfully. So, Stew and I got together recently, and as you’ll see, he has an offer for how he can help you.
Stew, what prompted you to chase this question? What’s your onlyness as to why you, why now?
When my eldest was born, 27 years ago, I was a young faculty member at Wharton focusing on leadership development and succession, the subject of my dissertation at the University of Michigan. But Gabriel’s birth rocked my world. I realized I had to use my skills and talents more directly in the service of making the world a better place for him and his generation to grow up in. It was a pivot point; I shifted my focus to the question of how business leaders could help families and how all business professionals could better integrate work and the rest of life.
I met considerable resistance. An esteemed colleague warned me that I’d had a “promising career” – why, he asked, would go I enter the ghetto of this “women’s field”? As it turns out, I was uniquely positioned as a man, and as a man at the Wharton School, to speak to a broad array of audiences, including senior executives, who, at that time, were, it’s safe to say, nearly exclusively old white guys. At conferences on the topic I was often the only man in the room. I was in a singular position, and, as you would say, I used this situation that “only” I could fill to try to create positive change.
Good for you for braving past that, um, interesting experience.
What’s the most counter-intuitive thing you learned along the way?
One of the most counter-intuitive things I’ve learned is that in it’s often the case that you can spend less time working to become more productive at work. My students and clients discover that when you pursue what’s most important to you and to the people who matter most to you, you have more energy to get things done, you’re less distracted, and you ignore the stupid stuff. When done intelligently, choices to spend less attention to work can result in improved performance at work.
Another counter-intuitive thing is that in order to pursue your own interests, to lead the life you want, to do what matters most to you, paradoxically, you need to focus on serving others. So instead of thinking about the “work/life balance” think instead of creating harmony among the different parts of your life by pursuing what I call “four-way wins” – actions you can take, under your control, that benefit you, your family, your community, and your work. The possibilities abound; you just have to look for them and then be vigilant about adjusting continually so others see that what you’re up to is good for them.
Having just moved to a new city, which I’m doing to “lead the life I want”, I imagined it would be nirvana. For example, I thought I would work out every day and maybe spend more time meeting local people to learn new stories. But actually I’m much worse off, logging more hours toiling away while not getting very far, never getting to the yoga studio etc. hiding from my local environment because the language burden (and my abysmal french) is so high. From all your experience, is this typical? And what would you have me do different?
Transitions are by nature disruptive, but disruption can offer an opportunity to re-evaluate what’s really important and being in a new cultural environment opens up the possibility of seeing things with fresh eyes. Use it as an opportunity to retool.
What’s the 1 thing someone can do to live the life you want is, fill in our _____.
The one thing is to recognize and focus on what matters to you. Everything else flows from that. Again, it’s similar to your construction of “onlyness” – what is it that is uniquely you, what makes you tick, what gets your juices flowing? Whatever that is, that’s what you need to be pursuing, and somehow converting into value for others, to lead a meaningful life, the life you want to live.
And I know that your thinking is backed up by research. Share a couple key bits of evidence that proves what you know.
Even as attention to work decreases by 10%, you can get an 8% increase in performance. More on that. I’ve studied executives in so many contexts – including as a researcher heading up the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project and then while I ran leadership development for Ford Motor in the late 90’s when I was on leave from Wharton and where I developed the Total Leadership program. And I’ve investigated the impact of this program on our Executive MBA students. One study of 300 of them showed that smart experiments in pursuit of four-way wins result, over a four month period, in an eight percent increase in meeting performance expectations at work, even as attention to work decreases by about ten percent during that time period.
How do you personally build the life You want? What’s your best tip.
In terms of do-able tips, I time shift a lot: When my children were young and at home, I’d be up hours before them, working in my home office, writing, grading, and so forth, so I could join them for breakfast and put them on the school bus. This is not atypical for a college professor – we have lots of discretion with our time. But this was unique at Ford, I can assure you! I’d also work late at night after everyone was in bed. Now that I’m an old codger, I still time shift, but now I nap at least once (preferably twice) a day. I also try, whenever feasible, not to have any scheduled meetings (phone or in-person) before noon. Today, in what you refer to as the social era, and what others might call the 24/7 non-stop buzz of connectivity, I try to turn it off. I try to keep my mornings reserved for thinking and writing and taking care of myself to rejuvenate, refresh, and restore.
In terms of building the kind of life you want to lead, nearly everyone is skeptical that it’s possible to have a fulfilling, meaningful, rewarding, remunerative, successful career and still have a full and rich life with loved ones. That’s part of what prompted me to write Leading the Life You Want and profile unarguably successful people who have created conscious, deliberate strategies to lead lives that are in harmony – not balanced at any one moment in time, but meaningfully integrated over the course of life.
Time blocks are a key technique that I love and live by, too. Thanks, Stew.
Besides being one of the top ranked management thinkers in the world, his book just got on the Wall Street Journal Business Book Bestseller List, and has had some great early press.
But– and this is so great of him to do given that Stew is in hot demand right now — he’s offered to do something JUST with the Yes & Know community. He will answer questions and we can dialogue on the blog about Leading the Life YOU want. And one of you awesomesauce people will WIN your very own personal signed copy of the book. (We’ll find a way to make it random, which typically involves me writing your name onto sheets of paper and having my son pick one out of a bowl; if you know a better way, please do me know.)
Alright, ASK things of Stew, and he can help us break down this idea of Leading the Life You Want into steps, actions and how-tos that will take us to the next level.