One of the kinder things I’ve been called over the course of my career is curmudgeon. OK, I do tend to be skeptical about “the next big thing” in health care. I’ve heard too many so-called experts get themselves all in a tizzy about the latest medical breakthrough or hot new coverage trend, only to watch most of those bright ideas fizzle and fade before the sun goes down.
Oh, and then there are the hotshots who are eager to show you new ways to be a more effective leader. I’m not saying we all can’t use a little advice now and then about leading our staffs, especially as the workforce has become more ethnically, generationally and otherwise diverse. But so much of what you get from these guys are little more than facile slogans thrown together in a slick PowerPoint presentation that’s promoted into a best-selling book.
So, you can imagine how thrilled I was to get roped into moderating, with two of my colleagues at the American Hospital Association, a recent managers’ discussion about a book called Leading the Life You Want. The book, by Wharton professor Stewart Friedman, is subtitled Skills for Integrating Work and Life. Yippie!
Turns out, there’s one good thing about being a skeptic: Once in a blue moon you get genuinely surprised. At the outset of his book, Friedman flatly declares that there’s no such thing as work-life balance. That caught me off guard.
He writes, and I suppose we all know intuitively, that our lives consist of four big areas, or domains, as he calls them: work, home, community and the “private realm” of mind, body and spirit. At any given point, one of those will need more time and attention than the others. The trick isn’t to try to slice the four domains into perfectly even pieces. Rather, it’s to understand and accept the imbalance among them, and to figure out how what you do well in one area can inform and support what you do in the others.
As squishy as that sounds, Friedman digs deeper, with practical exercises to help. If your brain overflows with as much everyday minutiae as mine does, actually writing down your hopes and expectations brings welcome clarity and possibly even a few surprises. It may also enable some of us to get past the feeling of guilt that we’re neglecting one aspect or the other.
Another exercise involves “time travel,” in which you imagine where you want to be at some point in the future, and then you go back to make sure you’re doing those things that will get you there. If not, you can consider your options for getting on the right track.
Friedman profiles six individuals he believes embody the values and skills needed to achieve life integration. It’s an interesting selection: Tom Tierney, co-founder of the Bridgespan Group and author of the guide, Give Smart: Philanthropy that Gets Results; Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook; Eric Greitens, former Navy Seal and founder of The Mission Continues; Michelle Obama, first lady and advocate for military spouses and healthful eating; Julie Foudy, soccer star and champion for social causes; and Bruce Springsteen … well, you probably know who he is.
There’s also a nifty quiz that lets you rate where you stand in integrating work and life, and to see which of the six individuals you most relate to. You can take it at www.qualtrics.com/totalleadership. — Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.