Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life

Bright Horizons
You wrestle with being a key contributor at work, a loving member of your family, a compassionate member of your community, and gentle with yourself, allowing moments that are just for you. Yet, you perpetually feel that you fall short of your goals and wonder if it's possible to live a balanced life.  

Perhaps it's time to throw out the scale, says Stewart D. Friedman*, the innovator behind the Total Leadership program, which promises participants a richer life that is not about 'work/life balance.' The founding director of the Wharton School's Leadership program and Work/Life Integration project asserts that yearning for 'work/life balance' leaves you losing out at work and in life. As Friedman describes in his book, Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life.  

An image of two scales in balance is the wrong metaphor. First, it suggests that we need equal amounts of competing elements to create a constant equilibrium, and for many people, equality in the importance of and attention to the different parts of life makes no sense. Second it signifies trade-offs: gaining in one area at the expense of another. Even though it is sometimes unavoidable, thinking about work and the rest of life as a series of trade-offs is fundamentally counterproductive. When the goal is work/life balance, you're forced to play a zero-sum game. Instead, the Total Leadership method is about producing sustainable change in all parts of your life and being successful in each one.  

A better metaphor for our quest comes from the jazz quartet: becoming a total leader is analogous to playing richly textured music with the sounds of life's various instruments. It's not about muting the trumpet so the saxophone can be heard. Unless you seek ways to integrate the four domains of your life and find the potential for each part to help produce success in the others, you cannot then capitalize on the synergies in places most of us don't see or hear.   Total Leadership involves examining what and who matter most to you, then designing and implementing 'experiments' to produce "four-way wins" for your work, family, community, and self (mind, body, and spirit). A successful experiment results in 'greater harmony' among all the domains of your life. And you'll become a more inspired, effective leader because of it.

Step 1: Be Real: Act with Authenticity

The Total Leadership program begins with you getting honest with yourself. You start off exploring what it means for you to be real and clarifying what's important. You write about how crucial events in your past have shaped your values and about your aspirations for your life in the future. Then assess the relative importance of work, home, community, and self ' taking the 'four-way' view. During this stage, you examine how much time and attention you give to each of these parts of your life, how satisfied you are, and how well the goals you pursue in them are aligned with each other.

Step 2: Be Whole: Act with Integrity

Acting with integrity secures connections to all parts of your life. In your journey toward acting with integrity, you identify the most important people in your life and what you expect of them as well as what they expect of you. Then evaluate the effect these 'performance expectations' have on each other and how your central relationships relate as an 'interdependent system.' Then ask yourself: 'Does this system have integrity?' 'Do these pieces fit together as a whole?'   This stage is also about communication ' how you connect with the people in your life, your 'key stakeholders.' Begin discussions with them to find out what they think and how well your relationships with them are working from their perspective. At the end of this stage, you'll understand what really matters to your most important people.

Step 3: Be Innovative: Act with Creativity

Now it's time to take all you've learned and play, make changes, and await the results. Design experiments based on what you've learned ' experiments that move you toward Total Leadership and produce better results in all parts of your life. Learn how to rally others to follow your direction by creating win-wins for everyone involved. When you're done with an experiment, take a look and see how you can continue to mold and shape it for even greater growth.

Connect With Others

Visit the Total Leadership Web site at to join others on their journey toward four-way wins. There, you can find support, create a profile where the important people in your life can provide direct feedback, and access performance tools, readings, sample experiments, video, and many additional resources to guide you. You can also order Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have Richer Life, now available from Harvard Business Press.  

*Stewart D. Friedman is a member of the Bright Horizons Business Advisory Board, a group of leaders who help ensure Bright Horizons remains at the forefront of early care, education, and work/life solutions.
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About the Author
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Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
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