Total Leadership Revisited

Almost 10 years ago I heard an interview on NPR with Stewart Friedman regarding what was then a new book called Total Leadership. At the time I was nearing the end of a long recovery from burnout.  Total Leadership was one of the better books for helping me achieve better balance in my life, and for helping me envision a healthier professional life as a physician leader.

There are two major premises in his book: 1) by integrating your professional, personal, family and community realms, finding common ground and synergy, you can be a total “leader” and achieve better work-life balance, and 2) by being your self, your whole self, and respecting the whole of others, and embracing your creativity, you will find joy and fulfillment in what you do.

Perhaps the best active advice this book provided for me were those that involved reflection.   For example, acting with integrity (being whole) sounds easy, but when you reflect on key crucial moments you may discover that the values you hold dear when calm and collected, can sometimes take a back seat when the heat is on or when things don’t go well.  If you truly value respecting the diverse views of others then you’ll listen even when emotions are high. You don’t have to agree but you’re able to acknowledge and kindly consider their perspective, which by the way takes longer than a few seconds.   Another example is honesty and trustworthiness. Most of us value these, yet, we are often dogmatic about things, which when truly dissected, the facts of which aren’t quite as black and white. In other words we aren’t as dedicated to the truth as we are our attachments to our own biases, our own perspectives.

This last point, reflecting to get closer to the truth of things, is actually a key daily activity for beating burnout. Burnout spirals because our reality is adversely shifted by negative bias.  Be Real, Be Whole, Be Innovative and Be Reflective and you can reduce/prevent burnout.

Being innovative is more about experimenting with new ideas and new ways of doing things than it is about dreaming up the next big idea and thinking it will fix everything (remember be dedicated to the truth). True innovators are doers. Its action on an idea and learning from that action, which takes honest reflection that makes innovation truly energizing (and successful).  And energy is an antidote for burnout (and we all like succeeding).

One of the exercises described in this book is to write a vision of you as a Total Leader in 10 years.  It’s been almost 10 years and as I read what I wrote back then, I realize that I achieved the vision (mostly).  Thank you Stewart Friedman.