Stewart Friedman – Wharton Professor & Founder Wharton Work/Life Integration Project

Johann

My name is Johann Berlin. Host of the Discerning What Matters podcast and CEO of TLEX Institute. Throughout this series, I’ll be interviewing experts and leaders who are driving what the future of work will look like within their companies and across their industries. During the podcast, we’ll be exploring a central question. As technology speeds us into an uncertain future. How can we design a future of work that meets our human needs and values? How can we create environments that will help us flourish and thrive in the way we live and work? We’d love to hear from you what matters most to you in the future of work. Please share your thoughts with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook at TLEX Institute. And you can check out our work and symposiums on tlexinstitute.com. Stew Friedman is a professor at Wharton. He’s an author of leading the life you want and total leadership. And I think in addition to being a professor, I think the thing I really appreciate about you Stew is you just seem like such a great mentor. And really is generous with your time and giving back and really cultivating the next generation of leaders and more human centered leaders. And so, it’s a great privilege to have this conversation with you today.

Stewart

Johann, it’s my pleasure to be here with you. And thank you so much for that generous introduction. That’s really lovely I appreciate that.

Johann

Good so we’ll jump right in. The first question I wanted to discuss with you today Stewart is around if you were going to determine in the future of humans at work. And really creating a kind of environment where we can both advance in terms of technology but also really thrive as human beings. If you were going to discern a few things that you think from your experiences, your decades of sort of work. In business and in education and creating the next generation and environment for leaders. What would you discern are sort of the most important things that we need to think about going into this discussion?

Stewart

Well, it’s a wonderful question and there’s a lot to it. I think, primary is to help people at all levels have a deeper and more true appreciation for their values what they stand for, their sense of purpose in their lives as a whole which of course evolves over time. You know, it changes my sense of my own generativity as you were referring to it in your kind introduction has grown as I’ve grown older I’m 66 now. I didn’t always have that same you know, sensibility. So things change over time, but what we know from research on the cultivation of leadership capacity in all employees. Is it begins with an appreciation and openness to exploring, you know, having the courage and support to look inside. And to know what you’re about and to have a sense of support for pursuing who you are and who you want to become. And so the, you know, employment systems and cultures that we create in organizations can either inhibit or encourage that kind of exploration. So I think that’s an important starting point helping people to as I refer to it in my work be real to know what’s important to their own lives.

Johann

I’d love to just jump in there. What do you think are the things that inhibit or encourage you know, in sort of some of the use cases that you’ve seen come up over the years?

Stewart

Well, this total leadership course that I’ve been teaching at Wharton for the last 20 years. And bringing to companies around the world was born at Ford Motor Company 20 years ago when I was the head of leadership development there. So I had been doing research and practice teaching and working with companies on how to develop leadership capacity, starting with my dissertation in the early 80s at the University of Michigan. we looked at how do you grow leadership talent in companies. And then I turned my attention to the question of how to integrate the different parts of life in ways that work for all of them. We did research on this subject and found a set of principles that seemed to be important to those people who were successful at cultivating their capacity to lead and all the different parts of their lives and create harmony among them. And so the method that we developed and began iterating on 20 years ago at Ford was the result of that research. And it starts with helping people to discover what matters most to them. And so we created a formal program that was built on the notion that you needed to have people surrounding you. Dearest primarily who were also engaged in this kind of exploration of what does it mean for you to be real? What are your values? Where have you come from? What’s the story that you’re willing to share about where you’ve come from? The critical episodes in your life history that have helped to shape who you are what matters most to you, what you believe in what you care about him, where are you going. And some other exercises that I’m sure many of your listeners are familiar with. Help people to become more articulate more aware of what matters most to them. And so when you start with that when you begin with wherever you come from what matters most to you. Based on what has actually happened to you and your human struggle. It opens up the opportunity for conversation that allows people to feel like they are able to reveal themselves in a way that is accepted. I think the great challenge for us here is how to cultivate human freedom. So the kind of liberation movement of our era, as I see it is one of enabling people to be themselves at work and in all the different parts of their license. So that’s where the work begins. And we’ve now been doing that that work and the book The Total Leadership, which describes the program and that identifying what matters most to you. It’s just the beginning of it. It’s in a bunch of different languages. And as you know, it’s a bestseller. And we’ve brought it to organizations all over the world. And what I’m finding is that what was quite unusual when I first began this journey now over 30 years ago. When we first started doing research on this topic, is that it is, there’s a hunger for models of growth and increasing performance at work that are rooted in the real lives of whole people. And I could give you a number of specific organizations where we’ve had, you know. Real resonance with these ideas and how it’s helped to improve people’s performance at work as well as in the other parts of their lives by again. Starting with what matters most to you and then moving to who matters most to you. Connecting with those people in meaningful ways through dialogue that people are helped to develop skills in and then experimenting with new ways of getting things done that enable them to align what they care about with what they do.

Johann

Interesting and I think I just want to highlight unpack. I think before we go into any more specifics on that some of the things I think you said, which are incredibly salient, one is the permissioning aspect. So in this power of also peer to peer influence around permissioning. So getting people to explore these things together creates an environment where people feel safe to actually talk about that. But the other is really around Association and assimilation. So much and we really miss this as a culture we are constantly associating to what we define as successful or what. We define as what matters and so much of that is not intentional actually, it’s been sort of influenced nudged on us to assimilate and associate toward different norms of like the leader who just keeps going. And never stops or you know you never take a break a mental health break or something like that. And I think this what you’re talking about is so timely Steward in the sense of that we’re looking at the sort of mental health statistics in the workplace. And in this society at large and I think and this ability to be whole to be able to have had struggles and not the perfectly curated sort of profile. So I really love a lot of what you just touched on there. And one of the things I’d love to drill in more with you is around what do you think because that is an amazing aspiration but you and I both know like in a lot of these companies it’s emergent at best. And it’s evolving and there’s varying pockets of acceptance versus non-acceptance, about being sort of whole person. What are the some of the ways that you look at the adaptive challenges and how they can overcome them?

Stewart

I think the notion of leading from the point of view of your whole life means bringing others along with you to a place that you see is better than the current reality. So it begins with you know, seeing the current reality as clearly as you can’t first inside of you, but then in the world around you. You have to see as clearly as possible, what it is that you’re facing every day and in the needs and expectations of the people around you. So what I asked my clients and students to do is after thinking through and writing about. And coaching other people on and getting feedback and elaboration and articulation in support of your core values your vision. We then help people to identify well who matters most to you. At work at home in the community and what are those people really need from you? What do they expect of you? And what do you expect of them? And how well you’re doing and meeting those expectations? And how are their expectations in conflict with each other? What ways are they compatible with each other? And how does all that fit with who you are in terms of where you’ve come from where you want to go? What ideas for innovation occur to you as you start to think through those questions? And then prepare for and engage in dialogue with those people to understand truly what they expect of you. Not what you think they expect of you and what you’re likely to discover. Like the 10s of thousands of people I’ve helped to do this work is that what other people expect of you is a little bit less than what you think. Now many people listening might be thinking no, that’s not true. You don’t know my boss, you don’t know my husband, my spouse, my kids, my mother, etc. and of course, I don’t but I can tell you. We’ve researched this most people have a somewhat distorted view of what other people see when they look at them. And they think that other people expect more of them than they actually do and a little bit different. So these dialogues really help to clarify what people around you need from you. And you get smarter about how to use your attention your time your energy in order to be able to meet those needs and expectations, especially those that you choose to take on and really own. So all this is perhaps a too long response to your really important question. How do you get traction when the pressures of performance are so intense. And where the models of people in executive roles are not always compatible with the notion of living a life that has some sense of harmony? And enrichment beyond you know, pursuit of material gain and power. And what I’m suggesting here is that by really understanding what your boss’, clients, colleagues. Subordinates need a view and becoming well attuned to their true interests and in negotiating. You know what you can actually bring and discovering that you have more support and probably more love surrounding you than you think you do. You gain a little bit of confidence and competence. And being able to then experiment with new ways of getting things done that are good for your boss, your clients, your customers, your colleagues and that are good for your family and yourself and your community. So that’s the breakthrough idea that that we’ve been trying to bring to people. And it seems to work when you take the view that you’re trying to make other people successful and not just pursue your own personal gain or your own family’s you know particular needs. But then you really take a leader-full kind of perspective. How do other people see what do you need to do to be able to adjust so that your boss sees you as you know performing? Well, according to her standards and expectations as well as what you need. Most people find that they have more room to maneuver to be themselves to have that kind of freedom than they then they otherwise think. So even in the most intense work environments and I’ve been in so many of them. You know, from a global manufacturing company like Ford Motor Company, to many the banks on Wall Street to you super high pressure academic medical institutions. You know, people trying to save lives and get tenure and be mothers and fathers. What I’ve discovered you know where they’re the traditional hierarchical notions of you know, command control you know, persist. What I found is that when you give people these tools and you put them in as you say, in an environment where they have permission to pursue these ideas and to help each other to do the same, that they find a little bit more freedom than they thought they had. And so that’s how we approach it. The idea is to improve performance and results at work and at home and in the community and for yourself personally. So it’s not a matter of balance, which I think is just baloney. It’s just not the right metaphor. It’s a matter of how do you pursue what I call four way wins, gains that are good for you and the people around you in the different parts of your life. Your work, your home, your community and yourself personally. And those are more available to people than they think once they start looking for them. And you can create change that’s good for you personally and for your family and your friends, in ways that your bosses will see as valuable that your company that your shareholders will see as valuable. You can at least try that. And that’s why the notion of experiments is so important. Yes, trying something for a short period of time to see how it works and to see if there’s value being created for your business, as well as for the other parts of your life. So that’s the essential idea it’s not a win lose scenario. It’s about trying to pursue gains for all the different parts and that helps people to break through the inhibitions of trying something new.

Johann

Yeah and I just want to unpack some what you said because I feel like it’s really dense with integration of a lot of things that really work and that are evidence based. A couple of them that really stood out to me in what you were just sharing for the listeners is one is around finding your intrinsic motivations versus your extrinsic motivations. If you’re just pursuing something for an extrinsic win or some validation, you’re probably going to give up or when you have some resistance or kind of loser. But finding that deeper meaning that deeper why, I think is the evidence. And if the listeners haven’t read anything on self-determination theory or some of these other aspects of intrinsic motivation. I would really recommend a look into that literature. The other is around other focus. And so often whenever we’re thinking about our careers we’re thinking about how do I advance myself? Or how do I advance my agenda or the things that I want? And I think your point about really taking the time to empathize and understand what those various stakeholders want is so important. And then the third that I hear you saying is around alignment finding ways to align these different aspects and stakeholders in our lives. So that in that intrinsic motivation needs of others and the things we want to pursue in life. And I think you’ve really created quite a beautiful tapestry of pulling together. So many of these aspects that really work well together. So I commend you on that. And I would be curious to hear in terms of the future of work, which is part of the theme of this the symposiums that are coming up in the interviews. What are the things given that we are whole people and given also that we’re very unique in many respects and how we’re wired and what we can offer to other humans through human interaction? What do you see the role of human interaction being in the roles of humans at work in the future the next 5, 10, 15 years as we move into more AI automation and machine learning?

Stewart

It’s such an important question and you know, it’s hard to know I don’t think anybody really knows there’s so much is changing so fast. But you know, we know that what’s most important to our lives at the end of our lives and there’s a lot of research on this not so much. You know, the material accumulations as the relationships that we have experienced and cultivated. And so the more that companies can be really investing in enabling people to establish human to human connections you know, above and around in between the various technological. You know, sources of communication that mediate human interaction. The more that people can see themselves as part of a community of others who have some collective interest in doing something that’s going to make the world better for all of us. The more likely it is that people will have the resilience you know, to sustain effort to get important things done. And we’re going to need that more than we have in the past I think as the very threats to humanity through you know. Both global political conflict and of course, changes in our environment, our physical environment. You know these demand, these pressures, demand from the leaders in our world. A sensibility that is you just committed to building connections, building relationships, sustaining human life and a big part of that involves recognizing that for us to continue to regenerate. You know to continue to be alive here as a species on earth means that we have to be caring for children. You know, not all of us are going to be producing children of course, but those that have some responsibility for children as many, many people do. Of course, it’s harder and harder to be able to do that. And so you know, with the advent of the you know, the dual career model being now standard and very different from you know the employment structures that assumed single earner you know, households. and with a real dearth of support from our social policy and national and state and local government policy. In the US to support working families we’ve got some major, major problems there. And it’s a struggle I hear most powerfully and most pointedly in my wanderings with students and clients especially in the United States, how are we going to do it? And so I think that is another important venue, through which, you know the private sector is can and is in some pockets. Really stepping up to realize that we have a long term interest as a company in ensuring that our people are able to you know, cultivate the next generation. And we can do something about that in terms of how we address their needs and interests. As well as what we can do to support social policy that that does as well with respect to family and medical leave. You know, supports for childcare systems and you know paying people training and paying people who take care of kids in a way that’s commensurate with their value in society. Advancing changes in our education system that ensure greater support for children and other important policies that help us to grow as a species. Perhaps that’s too high minded Johann I don’t know but certainly on my mind.

Johann

Yeah, what I love about it is you’re taking these disparate aspects of what make up the whole life for us. Like if you’re a parent, your kids are a big part of your life and thinking about how do we create a more seamless experience that actually takes into account those things which surprisingly we don’t. Yet they’re a big part of how we spend our time in our life.

Stewart

Not everyone of course but for many of us and for those of us who are not there are other interests that we’ve got in life that that need to be accounted for. But certainly one of the things that yes, we are failing in the private sector in the public sector is in the growth and health of the next generation.

Johann

Absolutely no I love that (it doesn’t have to be that way), yeah it’s a choice we’re not discerning that family (exactly) … yeah I love that. So I’d love to end on a question around just we’ve talked a lot about the sermon actually, you brought up some really great points about discerning what’s important. And this is definitely one of the skills of the conqueror, right as we get bombarded with information. And we have more and more access to insights, information and through automation and artificial intelligence, discerning what really matters. What are the things we want to prioritize in life and work and in society? And I would be curious just to hear from you personally what matters most to you. Like if you were going to discern a few things or one thing, what are the things that at this stage in your life with all the wisdom that you’ve gathered?SStewart25:13So you know, I’m committed in my work to try to help people to live in a way that is in accord with who they want to be. Where we began this conversation and your observation Johann about how there’s these external indicators of success that are just so destructive to so many people. I was just corresponding this morning earlier this morning with a student who was in my class a dozen years ago, who was a superstar student. She went on to pursue a career at one of the big three consulting firms. But realize that she was growing as a person that this was not the life she wanted to lead. And that she really wanted to invest her life in the food of her homeland, which is Palestine which she’s now a world famous food writer, author of you know, The Palestinian Table. And she was talking with me about how you know, how her journey has been one of discovering. Yeah I’ve always been thinking about how other people are evaluating my success in life. And there’s a real dark side to that, and I hear stories. So she left that world to pursue something that was really important to her, but it took a while to get there and it took a lot of support and a lot of courage. And I encountered that kind of story every day. So I’m trying to help people to get past those inhibitions that we talked a bit about you know that keep them from being who they really want to be. And of course, I’m trying to help my kids to do that as well. I have three and they’re all very different and they all have different needs and interests. But trying to support them and in you know, in their lives and to give them every opportunity to express you know what is important to them. And that’s the main thing that I am trying to spend most of my time doing. And I expect we’ll be spending more time on not just creating work environments that help people to. You know, to encourage people to be true to themselves but also to advance you know all the political causes and people who are trying to help save the planet. To me this is urgent and you know, on Monday denial really you know, frightening and a matter that requires all of our attention. So I’m bringing that to students and clients I’m just weaving that theme into everything that I do so that. You know, I can help to try to spark greater focus on the issue that certainly young people cared deeply about. And that is containing you know, the beast and making the world habitable for the next generations.

Johann

Well, I love this and actually, this is a great segue to in closing out the conversation around what could the future of humans at work look like? And if you think about just education as a space, which is obviously the future and as an educator professor. So many of the courses in Oregon around accounting or finance can be automated. Right and taught online but the type of stewardship and mentorship and connection that you just described from the past students and alumni of the school. And of your programs is exactly a great thing that cannot be replaced by that dad.

Stewart

Imagine that.

Johann

That human connection, right. And so I love that and just really appreciate your work, Stewart. And I would say I think if you really as an educator and a friend, even a mentor in some respects. And I just appreciate how many people you’re supporting to live a more true sense of who they can be in the world at this really important ages, why they define what matters to them and what they want to pursue. And so thank you so much for taking the time.

Johann Berlin

Johann Berlin is a serial entrepreneur, international keynote speaker and leadership consultant specialized in human and organizational development, mental health and well-being, and sustainable business and investing. Johann is CEO of TLEX Institute, providing over 1 million digital users with evidence-based leadership, breathwork and emotional intelligence training. His clients include top business schools like Harvard Business Schools and Fortune 500 companies like Amazon and Microsoft. A leadership writer at Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Real Leaders and Huffington Post, Johann is also Consulting Chief Learning Officer for Cooper Investors, a $13 billion private equity fund where he is integrating values-based investing principles into the firm’s culture fund. He is also Consulting Chief Learning Officer at Total Brain where he develops mental health and well-being content for clinicians, large consumer groups, and organizations. Johann is a leading voice on human-centered leadership, founding the Future of Humans at Work conference and podcast. Previously, he served as CEO and co-founder of Sustainable CitySolutions and was SVP of Sustainability and Strategy for JDI. As a board member, executive advisor and community volunteer, Johann is passionate about social ventures dedicated to resilient schools, local economy, prisoner rehabilitation, and youth leadership. Johann's TEDx talk has been viewed over 100,000 times.

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