Recently, while at my five year Wharton reunion, I was having a conversation with a classmate on how I was exploring ways that we could live differently, sustainably– embodying our spiritual values and promoting a ‘gift’ and love-based economy. Luis looked into my eyes, and, with firmness and resolution, said: “You need to attend Stew’s class on leadership”. I hadn’t signed up for the class, and honestly didn’t think that I would get a chance to attend a class, amidst all the excitement and socializing, plus – what would a Wharton class have to do with love, gratitude and compassion? But I went, having faith in my friend’s advice.
I was a few minutes late to class, and Professor Stew Friedman was talking about his book, Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life , the premise being on how to achieve four-way wins in one’s life, while aligning one’s actions with one’s values. Stew made the case that we need a new leadership in the world – people who embody personal vision and strong values, spending their energy in all domains of life and finding harmony amongst them. Most of all, the world needs more people who demonstrate authenticity, integrity and creativity in everything they do.
I felt like I was back at Wharton, attending a normal management class, perhaps talking about how to manage teams while embracing diversity and change. I had heard and read many books on authentic leadership, and felt that Stew’s message may be the same. Stew, as usual, had the airy and laid-back style he had while I was back at Wharton. He was wearing a casual suit with a salmon-colored shirt and adorned the same glasses. He had a lightness about him, as he sat with ease on the front desk, hands in lap. His dry humor and twinkle in his eyes had not left him. Yet, this time, I felt a difference in the air.
Our first exercise was to look at the four domains of our life: Work/Career, Home/Family, Community/Society and Self: Mind, Body, Spirit. I was surprised by the last domain – which management class discusses the Self and spirit? It reminded me of a class with Peter Linneman on Real Estate Entrepreneurship back at Wharton. During a lecture, talking about how difficult entrepreneurship is, he said something that struck a chord within me: “As an entrepreneur, you work for the worst manager in the world – yourself!” We all had chuckled, acknowledging some aspect of truth in that statement. But that made me wonder – how difficult can really I be, if even I can drive myself nuts? What kind of manager would I make if I can’t even manage myself, or be happy with myself?
With a few groans in the air, we all took the exercise, rating the four areas in terms of importance, focus, satisfaction and performance. People became quiet, as we began to reflect on the domains, our day-to-day actions and the significance in our lives. What does it mean if we put a 25% importance on work/career, yet put 70% of our focus there? What happens to the other areas?
During the exercise, Stew had spent time explaining each area, describing aspects of social contribution and time and energy spent with our families. He also began to talk about self-care – of our mind, body and spirit; and of all these domains (including work!) being harmonious components of leading a balanced life.
Next, Stew asked us to find a buddy – someone we had never met – to share our findings and to coach each other. A few people were shy and reluctant to share so personally; and yet, he persuaded us to humor him in the exercise. He stressed the importance of peer-to-peer coaching, and how we could act as each others’ guides, if we asked the right questions, skilfully. I found my partner, a woman who had graduated a few years ahead of me, and we began our coaching session together. What are the consequences of choices you make about focus of time and energy at work, home, community and self? What is your greatest challenge, besides time, in creating greater harmony? What small step can you take to better align what’s important with your everyday actions to improve satisfaction in all areas?
What came out from the conversation was telling. Luckily, I had been spending most of the past year on my spiritual journey – so I had devoted ample time to discovering myself through yoga, meditation, contemplation, service and healing. I had almost become like a hermit, except for my regular interactions with my meditation communities, and realized that I wasn’t satisfied with my ‘performance’ in the other areas, such as work or family. Others, on the other hand, began to reflect with each other how frustrated they were about their personal lives, and how much time they were spending on work, diverting precious time from self, family and community.
One woman shared that her partner had told her that after graduating from Wharton in 2008 and experiencing the economic crisis, he discovered that making money wasn’t his primary goal. She was moved, and spoke in a heart-felt manner that after many years of hardship and suffering faced while climbing the corporate ladder, she realized that the real truth lies in finding one’s dharma, living with generosity and serving the community. We talked about what our needs are, and how the mainstream work structure sometimes doesn’t enable or fulfil them, leaving us aching for more.
We were all touched by these insights, and the room became alive. Stew began to explain that when one lives with all four domains balanced and in harmony, one can begin to embody Total Leadership: being real (authenticity), being whole (integrity) and being innovative (creativity through experimentation). Stew passionately implored us to explore for ourselves – what values do I stand for? What would I be even willing to die for? What am I doing to make the world a better place, today? To me, this was the missing element in many of the management classes and books I had delved into the past – living in a state of harmony, sense of self and purpose – and a personal dharma.
The fun part of the class was one where we spent the last few minutes discussing different experiments that can we do to stretch our boundaries, to be better people, to make more time for ourselves. Ideas included working remotely, flexible work hours, appreciating and caring for others, journaling, taking time for yoga or meditation, doing community service – the list was endless. Stew shared studies showing how performance improved in all areas (even work), when a person created a lifestyle to enable authenticity, integrity and creativity through finding harmony in the four domains. He joked that he is probably the only Wharton professor that would tell his students to work less, much to the chagrin of folks who were still skeptical.
Personally, I can attest to everything that Stew recommends, for this is how I have spent my last year. I have seen my happiness factor increase many fold. I am constantly discovering new aspects of myself, and have been reveling in inner peace for the first time in my life. I am loving every minute of life, even when the tide is ebbing. I find myself serving others at work or home cheerfully, and my relationships are flowing harmoniously; I feel like my cup is overflowing. In this state of mind, I have seen my creativity begin to flow, my material needs diminish, and my desire to make the world a better place increase many-fold – it has almost become an unstoppable force inside of me.
I was moved by this class, and am excited that we could have a Wharton class with a spiritual bent. I am one of those believers that we need new leaders with strong personal values and balanced lives – those who care about the future, who can promote love and harmony in the world. Of course, as the Dalai Lama says, “We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.”