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When Stewart Friedman had his first son 27 years ago, it changed his life – and his work.

His focus as a Wharton School business professor was leadership development and he began to challenge his students, most drawn from human resources, to think about how they could cultivate not just the next generation of talent but the next generation of people.

His research changed to integrating work and life, continuing through a stint as head of leadership development for Ford Motor Co. and into his new book, Leading the Life You Want, which offers 36 exercises to achieve that often-elusive goal.

He considers the metaphor of work-life balance misguided and instead substitutes the notion of intersection and interaction of four domains: work or school; home or family; community or society; and the private realm of mind, body, and spirit. When we first encounter his schema, we might instinctively think of those four elements as being at war – certainly in conflict. But he insists it doesn't have to be. By making small changes, we can bring them into greater harmony. He calls those actions "four-way wins" – improvements that make your life better in all four domains.

In the book, he looks at six successful people who can serve as models for such four-way wins, including Thomas Tierney, former CEO of Bain & Co.; Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook; and U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama. "The common wisdom is that you have to give up everything to be successful. But their stories shows it's not true," he said in the interview.

They have developed the capacity to create harmony in the different spheres by bringing their passions from one domain to another. They are concerned about themselves, but also others they interact with, and the broader community. "Anyone can do this – in any society or age group. Most people don't ask: What can I do that is in my control that will make things better in all aspects of my life," he said.

He delineates 18 skills for making such progress, related to being authentic, acting with integrity, and being innovative – creatively experimenting with ways to get things done that may be better for you and others. Often, when you check with other people, you will find that what they want from you is less or different than what you expect. That liberates you to let go of things and act in ways that are more consistent with your values.

One key exercise is called four circles. It starts by taking 100 points and allocating them according to how important each domain is to you now. Then take another 100 points and distribute them according to the percentage of your attention devoted to each in an average week. You'll want to compare, considering how closely aligned your actions are with your values.

He then asks you to ponder how each role contributes to your sense of having a meaningful life. "How does each role affect how you see yourself? Does one role enhance another? For example, does being a father enrich your role as a community leader, and artist, or a co-worker – and vice versa?" he writes.

Then draw four circles to represent the different domains, the size of each corresponding to its relative importance in your life. How much do the circles overlap? Greater overlap signals greater harmony. Consider why they overlap, or don't, and the impact on you. Figure out how you could create more overlap – an example might be volunteering with some family members at the food bank.

Another exercise, the conversation starter, helps you to increase the overlap in different parts of your life. You might start by putting something about your family or outside interests in a prominent place in your office. When work colleagues notice, you can mention why it's important and how it helps you at work. Then try the reverse, bringing something from work to home so you can talk with your family or dinner guests about it. This creates awareness of who you are as a whole person and might alert others to how these hitherto-unknown aspects of your life can be valuable to them. Your boss may be interested in the skills you have developed organizing activities at the food bank or see a chance for the company to partner with that operation.

To lead the life you want, you will need help from others. To build supportive networks, try the who-matters-most exercise, listing the names of three to five people or groups who matter most to you in each domain of your life. Write down why each is important to your future and why it's in their interest to assist you. Then come up with one thing – the simpler the better – to provide help for some or all of these people or groups. To do that, you will probably have to hold some conversations about mutual expectation, which will create anxiety initially, but help you (and them) over time.

Gaining greater harmony in the four domains means helping others, which in turn will help you. "The paradox is that people who have achieved a life of significance have liberated their lives to make something they care about work for others," he concludes.

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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