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Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life

The Idea in Brief

Life's a zero-sum game, right? The more you strive to win in one dimension (e.g., your work), the more the other three dimensions (your self, your home, and your community) must lose. Not according to Friedman. You don't have to make trade-offs among life's domains. Nor should you: trading off can leave you feeling exhausted, unfulfilled, or isolated. And it hurts the people you care about most.

To excel in all dimensions of life, use Friedman's Total Leadership process. First, articulate who and what matters most in your life. Then experiment with small changes that enhance your satisfaction and performance in all four domains. For example, exercising three mornings a week gives you more energy for work and improves your self-esteem and health, which makes you a better parent and friend.

Friedman's research suggests that people who focus on the concept of Total Leadership have a 20%-39% increase in satisfaction in all life domains, and a 9% improvement in job performance--even while working shorter weeks.

The Idea in Practice

Total Leadership helps you mitigate a range of problems that stem from making trade-offs among the different dimensions of your life:

  • Feeling unfulfilled because you're not doing what you love
  • Feeling inauthentic because you're not acting according to your values

  • Feeling disconnected from people who matter to you
  • Feeling exhausted by trying to keep up with it all

To tackle such problems using Total Leadership, take these steps:

1. Reflect

For each of the four domains of your life--work, home, community, and self, reflect on how important each is to you, how much time and energy you devote to each, and how satisfied you are in each. Are there discrepancies between what is important to you and how you spend your time and energy? What is your overall life satisfaction?

2. Brainstorm possibilities

Based on the insights you've achieved during your four-way reflection, brainstorm a long list of small experiments that may help you move closer to greater satisfaction in all four domains. These are new ways of doing things that would carry minimal risk and let you see results quickly. For example:

  • Turning off cell phones during family dinners could help you sharpen your focus on the people who matter most to you.
  • Exercising several times a week could give you more energy.
  • Joining a club with coworkers could help you forge closer friendships with them.
  • Preparing for the week ahead on Sunday evenings could help you sleep better and go into the new week refreshed.

3. Choose experiments

Narrow the list of experiments you've brainstormed to the three most promising. They should:

  • Improve your satisfaction and performance in all four dimensions of your life.
  • Have effects viewed as positive by the people who matter to you in every dimension of your life.
  • Be the most costly--in regret and missed opportunities--if you don't do them.
  • Position you to practice skills you most want to develop and do more of what you want to be doing.

4. Measure progress

Develop a scorecard for each experiment you've chosen. For example:

Copyright 2008 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

Further Reading


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

Harvard Business Press

June 2008

by Stewart D. Friedman

This book, on which the article is based, offers additional ideas on how to perform well as a leader, not by trading off one life domain for another, but by finding mutual value among all four--work, home, community, and self. The author shows you how to achieve these "four-way wins" as a leader who can: Be real--act with authenticity by clarifying what's important; Be whole--act with integrity by respecting the whole person; and Be innovative--act with creativity by experimenting to find new solutions. The book includes more than 30 hands-on tools to help you produce stronger business results, find clearer purpose in what you do, feel more connected to the people who matter most, and generate sustainable change.


Work and Life: The End of the Zero-Sum Game

Harvard Business Review

July 2000

by Stewart D. Friedman, Perry Christensen, Jessica DeGroot

Not only do successful leaders pay attention to all dimensions of their lives--they encourage their employees to do the same. Leaders who treat employees' work and personal lives as complementary, not competing, priorities discover that employees respond with greater effort and loyalty. To create a work environment that supports all domains of employees' lives: 1) Clarify what's important. Be explicit about your unit's priorities and your expectations for employees' performance, but give employees great autonomy over how to achieve the goals you've laid out. At the same time, encourage employees to identify their concerns and goals outside the office. 2) Take time to learn about employees' personal situations. Not only does this build trust, it also creates opportunities to learn about other talents that employees could bring to your business. 3) Continually experiment with how work gets done. Streamlining work processes can improve performance and give employees more time to pursue personal goals.

Success That Lasts

Harvard Business Review

April 2004

by Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson

These authors provide another process for determining what matters most to you, a step you take before designing experiments for change. First, imagine life satisfaction as consisting of four categories: happiness, achievement, significance (positively affecting those you care about), and legacy (helping others find future success). Second, assess the various categories of satisfaction you've already experienced. Third, notice patterns: Are some categories meager? Others too full? Are the patterns in line with your goals? Fourth, identify which categories need attention and which show "just enough" success so that you can focus your efforts on a different category.

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