Leadership and Marriage

 In Individual Work

Leadership and Marriage are two concepts we don’t often put together.

Relationships are about love, about communication, about listening and conflict resolution. Marriage is also about leadership, which is about vision, action, goals, and accountability.

Recently in my work with business owners and corporate executives I have been increasingly asked ‘what constitutes a healthy marriage?’ This question leads to the interrelationship between leadership and marriage.

These two are drawn towards each other because one way to ‘frame’ the leadership conversation is to talk about relationship competency. If you are a doofus in relationships it will undermine your effectiveness as a leader regardless of how driven, creative, or brilliant you may be in the other dimensions of leadership.

And, a leader’s relational competency will surely show up in her/ his marriage. What does that competency look like?

Relational competency includes, but is not limited to: an ability to actually hear what is being said (without trying to anticipate it with a counter argument); the capacity to speak the truth with empathy for another; the skill of embracing conflict with the courage and skill to see it all the way through; and the willingness to be fully accountable for your own actions, attitudes and moods.

These are leadership behaviors as well since a competent leader will not blame those around him, will not shirk from accountability and will be seen by those she leads as not only firm but empathic, not only receptive but bulls eye clear in understanding.

Marriage needs leadership from both partners. This opens another conversation. What do we mean by leadership in this context? We all know the old definitions of leadership – authoritarian, decisively inflexible, demanding of sacrifice, top down etc. The ‘my way or the highway’ style of leadership has seen its day.

Today’s leaders are gender blind, color blind, ethnic blind, age blind. They lead by consensus. They do not take credit for what others do but work hard to honor the input, work and gifts of those they lead. The effective leader today can be called a ‘servant leader’ because his/ her role is to bring out the best in the team, take full accountability for errors and oversights and give full credit for success to those they lead. A big order.

This style of leadership works for either a wife or a husband in bringing a marriage to life. There is within the With These Rings paradigm (With These Rings published April 2007) the notion of Giftedness. What you uniquely see, how you uniquely shape a conversation, the instinctive gift you have for observing the world – may be called your ‘natural’ genius. This genius is the basis of your gift in relationship. Only you have it and it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with whether you are a man or a woman. It is your individual psychological/ spiritual/ emotional fingerprint. It is what makes you the who that you are.

Leadership within marriage could be thought of as each individual’s trust of his/her own natural genius. Leadership would look like partners deferring to each other’s gift. I’ll give you an example.

My partner has a wonderful sense of direction. She can tell north or south without looking at a compass. She is gifted in this way. I’m not. One aspect of our relational harmony is that I learned (after many years of resistance) to “surrender” to her gift. We no longer compete about where we are when traveling, I no longer sullenly resist her instincts while getting further and further lost. I recognize her gift and acknowledge it. Done.

There are many other ways leadership shifts between us. Trusting (and knowing) each other’s gifts frees us from many useless arguments. And we both grow through the appreciation of what we bring to this journey we call marriage.

A truly effective leader will trust her instincts in marriage. A healthy and growing couple will see that leadership competencies feed the quality and depth of their marriage. Without it, every day will look a lot like yesterday.

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