Friday, October 05, 2007

Leadership and Marriage: They Feed each Other

Leadership and Marriage: They feed each other

Leadership and Marriage are two concepts we don’t often put together. We seem to think.
relationships are about love, about communication, about listening and conflict resolution. Leadership is about vision, action, goals, accountability.

Recently in my work with business owners and corporate executives I have been increasingly asked ‘what constitutes a healthy marriage?’ This question leads me towards 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 look like? Relational competency includes, but is not limited to: your ability to actually hear what is being said (without trying to anticipate it with a counter argument); your capacity to speak the truth with empathy for another; the skill of embracing conflict and 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 empathetic, 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, takes full accountability for errors and oversights and gives full credit for successes 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 their 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 driving, 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.

Stephen W. Frueh M.Div, PhD is a leadership consultant, couples’ coach, mentor, writer and speaker. He is a professional member of the National Speaker’s Association. He lives with his wife and family in Ventura County, California.

He can be contacted at:
805 527 2600

Monday, October 01, 2007

Men and Women and Happiness

Men and Women and Happiness

N.Y.Times 9/26/07 “A Reversal in the index of Happy”

I’m always surprised when a researcher, reporting their latest study comparing men and women, miss the idea or importance of relationship. Certainly many have marginalized marriage as a viable concept. And, clearly we’re moving in the direction of individuality over connectedness (could divorce statistics simply reflect a mass indifference to the power of relationship?) It may be that we are increasingly skeptical about relationships and their power to transform lives.

The article in the N.Y. Times that got me started thinking about all this appeared in the Wednesday, September 26 edition – “A Reversal in the Index of Happy.”

The study focused on tasks – cooking, cleaning, gardening – and compares the sexes along a continuum of emotional intensity - sadness or anxiety (stress). While they do get a measure they can use to compare women forty years ago with women today (they are unhappier) and men then to men now (they are happier) – the study misses entirely what happiness is about.

The Greeks debated the idea a long time ago. It was eudaemonia, happiness, that needed definition. What is it? What does it consist of? How do you know you’re there when you are there?

Happiness is only partly the absence of sorrow or stress. In fact, we could offer many examples of stress filled situations in which a person would describe herself or himself as very happy indeed. Consider a championship tennis match. Are the contestants happy to be playing in the final? Are they stressed?

Happiness is often debated because it’s elusive, ephemeral, highly idiosyncratic and very personal. But there’s one thing we know. Couples the world over can tell when their marriage is going well and they describe themselves as ‘happy’ and when it’s not. Happiness may mean a sense of well being, the presence of joy, or the absence of pain. Happiness in relationship probably means that there’s a deep sense of connectedness.

Here are a few observations about happiness. Happiness doesn’t happen to you, you make it happen. I coach couples and notice that a large number who describe their marriage as an unhappy one, tell me – before long – that it is their partner’s fault the marriage doesn’t work. So, observation number one: Taking full responsibility for your own happiness is fundamental to relationship happiness.
Observation number two: We all have a deep need to be ‘seen.’ If you doubt that this is true, find a child nearby and watch his face when you notice a. how hard they’ve worked on a painting or other project, or b. how much they love you. Notice what they offer, attend to their gifts and you’ll see faces that radiate happiness. When I say to my grandchildren for instance “wow! you really love me don’t you! Their faces light up with enthusiasm that is volcanic.

Observation number three: We all focus way too much on ‘being loved.’ The essence of adult happiness is to love. Whether or not my wife loves me on any particular day is her challenge, not mine. My responsibility to myself is to love the person I say I love. Read that again.
It is only by fully embracing my own need to love that I can even begin to realize the depth of love – and therefore happiness – within me.
And number three doesn’t stop with partners. We have a rock solid need to love our children (regardless of how they show up in the world), our neighbors, friends, extended family and, in fact, the citizens of the world. It is not optional.
So the next time you read an article about happiness, pull this one out and remind yourself. Life really can be ‘a bowl of cherries’ if you get your loving priorities in order.

Stephen W. Frueh M.Div, PhD is a leadership consultant, couples’ coach, mentor, writer and speaker. He is a professional member of the National Speaker’s Association. He lives with his wife and family in Ventura County, California.

He can be contacted at:
805 527 2600