Interview: Stewart D. Friedman

FriedmanCurrently Friedman is a Practice Professor of Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.  Friedman is founder and director of Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project and he founded Wharton’s Leadership Programs for both the MBA and Undergraduate divisions.  Friedman was director of academic affairs for Wharton’s undergraduate division and has won numerous teaching awards; The New York Times cited the “rock star adoration” he inspires in his students.  From 1999 to 2001 he was a senior executive at Ford Motor, where he was responsible for the company’s global leadership development strategy and programs.  He was an advisor to Vice President Al Gore and Jack Welch on work/life issues and was chosen by Working Mother as one America’s 25 most influential men in having made things better for working parents. Friedman earned a BA degree at the State University of New York at Binghamton and MA and PhD degrees at the University of Michigan.  His most recent work is Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life, published by Harvard Business Press – an award-winning book that reached #3 on USA Today’s national bestseller list.  He heads a group that brings Total Leadership to organizations and communities worldwide in order to improve performance in all parts of life – work, home, community, and self – by finding mutual value among them.

Morris: In your opinion, what have been the most significant changes that have occurred in the U.S. workplace during the past decade?

Friedman: The world has changed dramatically since I began teaching at Wharton in 1984, and incredibly fast in the past decade, with profound impact on every aspect of business life.  The changes demand a new approach to business.   Perhaps the most significant shift has been the digital revolution and how this has altered every aspect of our lives, especially work.  Ours is the first generation in history, for example, for whom the decision about when to work and when to rest is – at least for many of us – an internal one rather than a reaction to the relationship of the earth to the sun.  Like all technological revolutions, the arrival of such tools precedes our capacities to use them intelligently.  Right now we’re in the midst of a grand experiment on how best to harness the incredible power of the internet while we struggle to maintain useful boundaries among the different parts of our lives.

Morris: Given your response to the previous question, what impact have these changes had on workers’ efforts to balance career and personal obligations?

Friedman: Managing the boundaries between work and the rest of our lives – family, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit) – is now a much more daunting task.  The good news is that there are ways to realize the promise of greater focus and presence on the moment for better performance and results, but it does take discipline and practice to get there.

Morris: Especially within the last few years, there has been a great deal attention devoted to employee engagement or the lack thereof. Recent Gallup research indicates that indicating that 29% of the U.S. workforce is engaged (i.e. loyal, enthusiastic, and productive) whereas 55% is passively disengaged. That is, they are going through the motions, doing only what they must, “mailing it in,” coasting, etc. What about the other 16%? Are they engaged? If true, how do you explain these statistics?

Friedman: Yes, there is a crying need to fix the problem of disengagement and distraction, though it’s difficult to assign accurate numbers to how many suffer this problem.  The interesting question is the diagnostic one:  What causes people to feel disconnected and unfocused? My research and practice indicates that people need to be doing work they love and to love the work they do.  They need to feel that their efforts matter for the people and causes about which they really care.  Further, they need to be doing work with people they respect and enjoy.  Finally, they need to feel free to choose where, when and how it all gets done. It’s not easy to put these conditions in place, but it is certainly possible to do so, as I have seen and shown in my work in organizations and communities using the Total Leadership approach.

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