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The Secret to Leading the Life You Want: Strategies from a Wharton Professor

The Secret to Leading the Life You Want: Strategies from a Wharton Professor

By Christine Condon

Are you leading the life you want? 

Stew Friedman, Wharton School of Business professor and advisor to business leaders, recently posed this hard line question to Ellevate members. He had to coax the audience to respond and got a decidedly mixed bag of answers: yes, no, "sort of" and "transitioning to it" to name a few. This is an important question; in fact, it’s the essential question. So how do we get better at answering it?

Friedman’s life work has been about making an evolution to the affirmative. He helps people discover their personal relationship between work and life—and gives us the tools to address this question.

Friedman surprisingly challenges the concept of a “work/life balance.” He urges us to replace this notion with something more realistic and sustainable. The key is to be able to integrate home, work, community and self—and to create a sense of harmony across these four areas. What do successful people do to make it work? Friedman tells us there are three skills that are essential in this evolution.

Be Real

Act with authenticity. What matters most to you? Align your values with your vision. This is really the anchor of this process.

Be Whole

Act with integrity. Recognize who the most important people in your life are—at home, at work and within your community. Think about who holds a stake in your future; make a list. What do they expect of you, and what do you expect of them? Where is there conflict and compatibility? Talk to these individuals to clarify your expectations and explore this together. Friedman says, “People discover that what others expect of them is usually a little bit less than what they thought—and a little bit different.” In this process, you’ll be building trust and feeding ideas for innovation.

Be Innovative

Act with creativity. Constantly experiment with how things get done. Think about what you can do now to improve your life, and create an action plan around this. Through years of research, Friedman has found that when people do experiments where they align what they care about with what they do every day, they then come to shift some of their attention away from work and onto other areas of their lives. And, less attention to work leads to better performance at work. When people focus on the things they care about, they are less distracted at work—because they are taking care of what matters outside the office.

See How Some of Today’s Most Successful People Are Doing It

Friedman interweaves 18 critical skills exemplified by highly successful people leading the lives they want. Facebook COO and author of Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, conveys values through stories, builds supportive networks and resolves conflicts among domains. Tom Tierney, former Bain & Company CEO and Bridgespan co-founder, envisioned his legacy through journaling, weaves disparate strands and sees new ways of doing things. Eric Greitens, who is a nonprofit leader and US Navy SEAL, holds himself accountable, applies all his resources and focuses on results. First Lady Michelle Obama aligns actions with values, manages boundaries intelligently and embraces change courageously. Julie Foudy, who is a soccer champion-turned-broadcaster, knows what matters to her, helps others and challenges the status quo. Renowned musician Bruce Springsteen embodies values consistently, clarifies expectations and creates cultures of innovation.

These people all integrate work and the rest of life well. Stew tells us, “You’re more likely to be successful when you creatively bring the different parts of your life together…Significant achievement results from compassionate action to use one’s talents to make the world somehow better.”

Most importantly, it is possible to develop the skills you need to lead the life you want.

So, Ellevate members, which skill is the most important for you to focus on now, and why? Tell us your thoughts. 


Continue learning with this Ellevate Playbook:

Community Discussion
Linda Galindo

I am enjoying the realization of a "life of creation" as my children are off to college. The biggest shift is from a life of reaction and logistics to a life of continually recalibrating my definition of success so that I live it every day. On page 90 of my book The 85% Solution, How Personal Accountability Guarantees Success. No Nonsense. No Excuses. I describe how defining success is THE determining factor to live free of "the committee of others." It's personal. No one knows but you. Be brave and go find your definition of success. It affirms us all when you do.

May 15, 2015