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Total Leadership

June 25, 2009 | by

An interview with the founding director of the Wharton School's Leadership Program and Wharton's Work/Life Integration Project.

Google Professor Stewart Friedman and you'll discover that he is the founding director of the Wharton School's Leadership Program and Wharton's Work/Life Integration Project. You will discover that he has a BA in Psychology from Binghamton University and an M.A. in Psychology and Ph.D in Organizational Psychology from the University of Michigan. If you read carefully you will learn that he spent two years as the director of the Leadership Development Center at Ford and that he has consulted with many and varied organizations and individuals including Jack Welch and Al Gore.

But you won't understand who he is and how he arrived at his important and potentially life-changing perspective on integrating life's different components. tried to learn more about Professor Friedman in a recent phone interview.


We don't have to always sacrifice one area of our lives to achieve success in other parts.



Professor Stewart Friedman's philosophy and approach are summed up in his latest book, Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life. He believes that we are all able to integrate the different parts of our lives -- work, home, community and private selves -- in ways we never thought of and that we don't have to always sacrifice one area of our lives to achieve success in other parts.


Creating boundaries and allocating our time in a thoughtful way is even more crucial today since the digital revolution makes it possible to engage in work-related activities 24/7. In order to truly take advantage of the benefits of this technology (for example, reducing travel by using digital tools), we must be conscious of the danger of becoming even more enslaved. Professor Friedman's tools of self-examination come into important play here.

In order to "be real" we need to introspect and discover what's most important to us. What are our core values? This can be an uncomfortable process that not everyone wishes to engage in (and may avoid through even more work!) but it is certainly worthwhile.

In order to "be whole," we need to ask the most important people in our lives what they expect of us. Professor Friedman has found that what we assume others expect of us is usually greater than what they actually expect. This may provide an opportunity for us to reallocate our attention.

Even if people's expectations are, in fact, not less than you expected, this exercise still leads to a clear and more realistic view of the situation, allowing us to evaluate the relative importance of different relationships.

The third step in this process of self-discovery is for individuals to experiment with new and different ways of getting things done to see what works for them. Since everyone's lives and needs vary greatly, this is a customized program, not a "one size fits all." It requires work and trial and error, as in all experimentation, on the way to getting it right.

The goal is improved performance in all domains with greater satisfaction in each. Note to workaholics: Productivity actually increases with the level of harmony and integration and NOT with the amount of hours spent.

Although Professor Friedman's exposure to Judaism was very limited as a child, his ideas certainly reflect core Jewish thought and values about self-actualization, the search for meaning and the need to lead a thoughtful, balanced and purposeful existence.

Ultimately everyone experiences a greater sense of control and freedom in living in ways that are consistent with what they're passionate about.

Professor Friedman grew up in Brooklyn in a family of artists. His father is a hair stylist and photographer who, at the age of 79, is publishing his first book of photographs. His mother is a painter and playwright. He has a brother who is an actor and a sister who is a textile artist. Although a position at Wharton business school would seem to make him the black sheep of the family, his field of expertise is definitely reflective of the creative influences in his upbringing as well as his studies in psychology.


Integrating the different parts of his life became a serious practical reality with the birth of his first child.


Friedman credits his parents and their evolution in their roles with inspiring him to pursue this field and was definitely aware of their struggles to be available for their children, their work and each other. He could feel their challenges and that set the stage for his later work.

Although Friedman was always interested in work/life issues and their implications for leadership, it was all theoretical until the birth of his first child. Then the task of integrating the different parts of life became a serious practical reality. We asked Professor Friedman if his wife would say he managed this juggling act successfully but he dodged the question. "You'll have to ask her," he said. "I'm certainly conscious of trying to achieve harmony and alignment among the different parts of my life. I think those of us in this field frequently feel like frauds as we witness the gap between the espoused ideal and our own lives. We all aspire to do a decent job even if it's not as a good as we would like it to be."

We agreed that this model remains harder to achieve for women than for men with women continuing to bear the primary responsibility for child-rearing while being pressured to accomplish so many other things as well.

On the other hand, men have the challenge that their sense of self-worth is intimately tied to their income and the status of their employment. This is a challenge at all times but particularly during this economic downturn.

For some this is truly an opportunity to implement Friedman's system, pruning away wasteful activities and focusing on what's most essential. It's a chance to rethink career paths and move out of a rut.

For others the struggle is more basic -- to find a sense of purpose in whatever they do. This is, of course, a fundamental human challenge and Professor Friedman's position has been informed by Victor Frankl's post-Holocaust work, Man's Search for Meaning. "It's crucial for all of us," says Friedman, "to connect our work with something we really care about."

The question of work/life integration and satisfaction seems to be one of the pre-eminent issues of our times.


"I've grown to have an appreciation for the rituals of Judaism that I didn't have previously."


We suggested to Professor Friedman that keeping Shabbos was a good way to resolve these tensions, to which he agreed. "I live in an area that is predominantly modern orthodox and I've grown to have an appreciation for the rituals of Judaism that I didn't have previously. The more I learn about Jewish philosophy and thought, the more I see that my values and system are very connected."

"Although I was not a great student of Judaism in my youth, what I have learned as an adult has been deeply meaningful to me."

Professor Friedman recently taught his system to a group of philanthropists at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and he went on a mission to Israel with them.

Like all good teachers, Professor Friedman teaches in order to keep learning. "In constantly thinking about how to help others, I believe we raise our own consciousness."

Professor Friedman believes his core message is to "do what you love - which starts with clarifying what's important and then figuring out how to get as close to that as we can in our everyday lives."


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