Total Leadership

Total Leadership:  Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life
By Steward D. Friedman

Spurred by conversations I’ve been having with clients recently, this month’s book review focuses on “work/life balance” or (as I prefer to call it) work/life integration. As I’ve previously written, self-management is a critical skill for leaders.  That it’s also a challenge is reflected on the number of leaders who excel at work but have less satisfactory home lives, or those who prioritize “success” above health and suffer the consequences.

In Total Leadership:  Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life, Stewart Friedman urges leaders to seek “four-way wins”, meaning high performance in the four domains of life: work, home, community, and self (mind, body, and spirit).  Achieving these wins creates “total leadership”, which in turn creates sustainable change to benefit the leader and the most important people around him or her.

Traditional “work/life balance” principles, which suggest that there’s one single point called balance and innumerable other points that are unbalanced. That connotation is why I prefer the phrase integration to balance, and why I find Friedman’s approach to be so helpful.  By recognizing that our lives are more than “work” and “everything else”, Friedman opens the possibility that we don’t have to live on a see-saw.  Instead, we can find give-and-take among the domains, ideally finding activities or ways of being that serve all four.  Doesn’t that sound better than stealing time from work to serve life, or vice versa?

Scoring four-way wins is grounded in a clear view of what you want from and can contribute to each domain of your life, now and in the future. Naturally, you must pay thoughtful consideration to the people who matter most to you in each domain (the “stakeholders”) and the expectations you have for one another.  Doing so raises the likelihood that you will take steps that serve not only yourself but also the stakeholders in each domain.  Otherwise, you might end up with a brilliant plan that suits you perfectly but undermines or alienates colleagues, friends, and family members — or one that serves everyone in your life except yourself.

Having done this foundational work, the next step is to systematically design and implement carefully crafted experiments, doing something new for a short period to see how it affects all four domains. If an experiment doesn’t work out, you stop or adjust, and little is lost.  If it does work out, it’s a small win; over time these add up so that your overall efforts are focused increasingly on what and who matter most.  Either way, you learn more about how to lead in all parts of your life.  The ROI that Friedman reports is truly impressive:

In a study over a four-mont period of more than 300 business professionals (whose average age was about 35), their satisfaction increased by an average of 20% in their work lives, 28% in their home lives, and 31% in their community lives.  Perhaps most significant, their satisfaction in the domain of the self — their physical and emotional health and their intellectual and spiritual growth — increased by 39%.  But they also reported that their performance improved:  at work (by 9%), at home (15%), in the community (12%), and personally (25%).  Paradoxically, these gains were made even as participants spent less time on work and more on other aspects of their lives.  They’re working smarter — and they’re more focused, passionate, and committed to what they’re doing.

Four-way wins tend to have direct impact in one domain of life and indirect impact in others. For example, a commitment to working out three mornings a week directly benefits the leader’s “self” domain, with better health and reduced stress, and the work and home domains indirectly benefit as the leader focuses more effectively on matters at hand, has greater emotional stability, and is a better “partner”, whether to colleagues or family members.

Each individual will create his or her own unique experiment, but Friedman has identified eight general categories of worthwhile experiments:

  • Tracking an activity and reflecting on progress toward a goal:  increases self-awareness.
  • Planning and organizing:  find ways to use time more effectively and plan for the future.
  • Appreciating and caring:  building relationships.
  • Focusing and concentrating:  being fully present to key stakeholders.
  • Revealing and engaging:  enhanced communication and relationship-building.
  • Time shifting and “re-placing”:  changing when and where work is done.
  • Delegating and developing:  passing appropriate tasks to subordinates and assistants.
  • Exploring and venturing:  taking steps to align the four domains of life with a leader’s core values and aspirations.

As Friedman recommends, tracking the results of the experiment is critical, tweaking an experiment as it proceeds will often increase the benefits.

What’s in it for lawyers? Friedman’s approach is an evidence-based approach to help lawyers learn to make challenges that will benefit all aspects of their lives.  Choosing no more than three experiments, measuring the results, and then deciding whether to continue the experiment removes the “high stakes” nature that so often tanks sweeping changes.  (For example, how often have you sworn “never” to do something again, only to find yourself doing the foresworn activity within the next few days?)  This excerpt encapsulates why I expect Friedman’s work will speak to lawyers:

The best experiments let you try something new while minimizing the inevitable risks associated with change.  When the stakes are smaller, it’s easier to overcome the fear of failure that inhibits innovation.  You start to see results, and others take note, which both inspires you to go further and builds support from your key stakeholders.

If you’ve been looking for a workable work/life integration solution, pick up Friedman’s book. You’ll find it a rational, sensible approach that will offer substantial directions toward a life you want to lead.

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