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Want To Become A Better Leader At Work? Try Spending Less Time In The Office

via Forbes : Conventional wisdom has it that the more time you spend in the office, the faster you’ll climb the corporate ladder. But what if spending time on other aspects of your life could make you a better leader?

Stewart Friedman, a professor of management at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, has been making this case for decades. He teaches a “Total Leadership” MBA class and has written a book of the same name. His approach forces people to think hard about what’s most important to them, often nudging them to shift more attention toward areas like family, community and personal happiness.

To measure whether his Total Leadership concept worked, Friedman surveyed more than 300 executive MBA students before and after they took the course. Their career satisfaction increased by 21%, and their work performance (self-assessed) improved by 8%. Happiness with family life grew even more. In a study published earlier this year, assistant professors who took Total Leadership and a writing class published research at a faster rate than a control group. “They worked smarter,” Friedman says.

The first step of Total Leadership is to think about four domains of your life: work, family, community and self. If you had 100 points to indicate the importance of each, where would you put them? Next, Friedman suggests looking at where you focus your time and energy and allocating points in the same way. Friedman shared data with Forbes from executive MBA students who rated themselves before they took Total Leadership. The students allocated just 34 points to work on average, but it took up a much bigger chunk of their attention, at 56 points. Attention to all three other areas suffered.

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After completing this exercise, it’s time for self-reflection, Friedman says. Ask yourself, what are the consequences of how I spend my time? What changes should I make?

The next step is to set up what Friedman calls “stakeholder conversations” with people close to you, such as your family, colleagues and friends. Your goal is to understand their expectations. Start by discussing what you think they need from you, and ask them to react to those assumptions. Probe for examples of what they want and need. And ask them to go through the same exercise so they can understand your expectations.

Why do these conversations help? “They lead you to spend less time on the things that don’t matter, more time on the things that do matter,” Friedman says. “Because you’re taking care of them, you’re less anxious and distracted about thinking about your loved ones.” Having such a deep conversation might sound scary, but if you want be a leader, this is part of your job. “It’s a crucial part of your skillset to make people feel comfortable enough to say what they need from you, and to hear what you need from them,” Friedman says. And think of the alternative — would you rather be kept in the dark? Wouldn’t you rather have a map than go without one?

The final step is to experiment with new behaviors that will improve multiple domains of your life. One Total Leadership participant, a manager at a consulting firm, started to set a few “must-keep” dates with his spouse and children. The change aimed to improve not just his family life but also his work life, since it would allow him to stay more focused while at the office; it also gave his colleagues more clarity about his availability. In another example, a lab technician supervisor started organizing social events for colleagues outside of work, an activity that could improve both her work life — by increasing team morale and efficiency — and the community domain.

Try thinking differently about how these four areas of life — family, work, community and personal happiness — intersect, and see if you can improve two, three or even four domains with a single new activity. Try out a new behavior for two weeks, and then ask yourself: Does it make you happier?

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