What does marriage have to do with leadership? If you are married, everything. Nothing will undermine your effectiveness as a leader faster than a bad marriage.
Your marriage is a living example of what it is like to be in a close relationship with you. This is why it is so important that leaders get this right if they want to influence others.
Getting Our Needs Met
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that is very me-centered. Gail and I often talk to people who are frustrated with their spouses. Most of this stems from the fact that they are not getting what they think they need or what they think they should be getting.
I am not saying that it is wrong to give voice to your needs. I am saying that it is often an ineffective way to get them met, unless you first sow the seeds of generosity and servanthood. (This is also good practice for being a leader in any sphere of life.)
Gail and I have been married for almost thirty-eight years. We can both honestly say that we are one another’s best friends. We talk constantly, exercise and go on long walks together, and eat almost every meal together. We just love being in each other’s company.
But what if you don’t have this kind of relationship with your spouse? We work with enough couples to know that this kind of intimacy and friendship is rare. But, honestly, we are not special.
I don’t want to be naive, but I don’t think it is that difficult—if you are willing to make the investment. If you are, then I would recommend three straightforward steps:
Step 1. Make a List of What You Would Want in a Best Friend
If you were going to advertise on Craigslist for a best friend, what would the ad look like? Perhaps it might look like this:
Prospective candidates will:
- Make me feel good about being me.
- Affirm my best qualities (especially when I am feeling insecure)
- Call out the best in me, and hold me accountable to the best version of myself.
- Listen without judging or trying to fix me.
- Give me the benefit of the doubt.
- Extend grace to me when I am grumpy or having a bad day.
- Remember my birthday, favorite foods, music, and art.
- Know my story and love me regardless.
- Spend time with me, just because they enjoy my company.
- Speak well of me when I am not present.
- Serve me with a joyful spirit and without complaining.
- Speak the truth to me when no one else will.
- Never shame me, diminish me, or make me feel small.
- Become excited about what I am excited about.
- Celebrate my wins!
Step 2. Now Become That Person for Your Spouse
That’s right. Turn the table. Make this a list of the kind of friend you will become. I can promise you this: anyone who does half of these kinds of things will have more friends than he or she knows what to do with. But what if you focused this effort on your spouse? Think of the possibilities.
Psychologist John Gottman has spent years researching what makes some marriages flourish and others fall apart. He found lasting relationships comes down to friendship. Couples who stay married make an intentional effort to connect, share interests, and meet their spouse’s emotional needs.
Step 3. Keep Sowing the Seeds Until the Relationship Blossoms
How long will it take to create this kind of relationship? It all depends on where you are starting. For some, it might be several months. For others, it might take years. Friendships are like gardens; they must be cultivated. The key is to be consistent and persistent—without expectations.
There’s usually reason to hope in almost any circumstance. “[T]here’s a great deal of evidence showing the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves, which leads to upward spirals of love and generosity in a relationship,” says Emily Esfhani Smith.
It’s amazing what can happen when we assume the best and stay meaningfully engaged with our spouses.
This is really nothing more than the application of the Golden Rule to marriage: “Do to others what you would want them to do to you” (Luke 6:31).
If couples would invest in one another like I am suggesting, the divorce rate would plummet. Romance is important. Sex is too. But a solid friendship is the foundation of everything else.