What my marriage taught me about leadership
I thought for the longest time that if I simply pointed out the needs my wife didn’t meet of mine, that that would be the most effective strategy to get her to meet them.
Yes, I actually thought that.
I never wrote it down or considered it that way, and it sounds absolutely asinine as I write it now, but that’s what I essentially did through my actions for many years of our marriage.
Two marriage counselors later, and six years of incredible grace and patience shown to me from my wife, I stumbled across a marriage book that was a bit different. In the book, the ex-marriage counselor shared how he had given up his practice after realizing that near half of the couples he counseled ended up getting a divorce anyway – the same percent as the national divorce average.
He finally decided to take a teaching job and “counseled” for free. He told the people who visited that he no longer counseled, but he would listen to them.
He then made a remarkable discovery as he listened for free to these marriages discussions.
The ex-counselor realized that for many years he made the assumption that his client divorces were occurring because of marriage miscommunication. He now understood that many of those he listened to could communicate very clearly what their frustrations were.
The problems were occurring, as he discovered, not because of miscommunication but because each person was meeting “needs” of the other person that often times didn’t even exist.
In turn, the spouses would become even more angry and frustrated with each other as they both worked harder to meet the wrong, unimportant or non-existent needs of each other.
This is exactly what I was doing with Randi. I would do things for her that I would want done for me. NOT things SHE would want me to do for her. I would then get angry and resentful when she didn’t appreciate me for all the needs I was meeting of hers, and would then critically point out all of the needs of mine she hadn’t met.
Yes, we’re still married. No, I’m not sure why she stayed.
Based on the book, I decided to try an experiment and secretly started letting go of my self-focused agenda and tried to place all my attention on hers. Before long, I realized that my wife was significantly more receptive toward me and she even started asking how she could be a better wife to me – which was my end goal to begin with!
I was stunned.
I couldn’t believe that for that many years, I focused so frequently on meeting needs of hers that weren’t even that important to her. And it occurred me, that I and others must likely do this in our work relationships as well.
I learned many lessons from this book and experience that not only apply to relationships, but I think to leadership and life in general.
I learned that:
- Our self-focused agendas isolate us from others
We walk into boardrooms, coaching sessions and team meetings with self-focused agendas. We sit down at the dinner table and break room table with our self-focused agendas. But these agendas often isolate us from hearing the true and important perspectives of others. They also keeps us from inviting others to be part of THE AGENDA because we already determined that it’s ours and what it will be. So we walk out of the boardrooms, the coaching sessions and team meetings with our agenda still intact and solely ours. This further invites others to stay focused on their own as well.
- We often make false assumptions about the needs of those we follow and lead
It is through agenda-less listening that we are able to uncover the needs of those around us. When our true focus is on our self, even the type of questions we ask are different. Self-serving questions. Ultimately, they are revealed for what they are – questions designed selfishly for self. But when our focus is genuinely on others, the questions we ask are filled with inquiry that invites relationship, trust and affinity.
- Criticism motivates very few of those around us
Criticism can rarely change the motivations of the heart. But encouragement and support does. Critical leaders are often met with invisible and silent revolts they can’t see or hear by those they lead and follow. Silent revolts that take part through active employee disengagement. But supportive leaders that build up those around them have high amounts of positive reinforcement for the good work done around them. This generates loyalty and more amounts of good work from those people.
Successful leaders leave their self-focused agendas behind and through engagement with their people build the team-agenda together. When we set down our self-centered intentions and place our focus on those around us, not only do we do better in our personal relationships, we do better in our work relationships as well.