The Search for Balance

A life values class at Wharton has created a buzz in the B-school community. Taught by management professor Stewart D. Friedman, director of Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project, the course fulfills a critical need both students and established entrepreneurs have for improved synthesis between their careers and personal lives.

As explained in Marci Alboher’s recent piece in the New York Times, Friedman’s philosophy is, fundamentally, that leadership can exist in every person, whether at the top, middle or bottom of any group. Also, he believes leadership should not be confined to work, but extended to one’s personal life, community involvement and family life.

Friedman isn’t the only person thinking along these lines. A growing number of business school professors say that today’s business climate is conducive to a type of leadership informed by strong personal values. Allan R. Cohen, the dean of Babson College’s graduate business school, who has taught leadership for over 30 years, says that while the current language of leadership focuses on authenticity and looking at the whole person, this type of thinking has been around in some form since the 1940s, when human skills were first starting to be addressed in academia.

“There was a period when you’d never talk about the emotional or sensitive side of leadership,” Cohen says. “Then the pendulum swings and you find out that some of these people are tone-deaf and emotion-blind, that they lose their followers and make decisions that aren’t so good. We have seen a lot of unethical leadership, and all of a sudden devoting your career to just making money isn’t looking so attractive. So different kinds of courses become more interesting.”

Friedman says his course, which has been taught in Wharton’s regular MBA program, is particularly relevant for midcareer students in the school’s executive MBA program, who often have families and children, and are feeling the pressures of managing their lives.

“The reason it’s been so well received,” according to Michael Useem, the director of Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management, “is that those in their 30s and 40s have mastered many essentials ”” finance, accounting, strategic thinking ”” and they are savvy about how your private life fits and should be reconciled with your work life, as opposed to in conflict with it.”

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