Leadership at Home

Elizabeth Weil – who is now working on a “memoir about marriage improvement” called No Cheating, No Dying – wrote a riveting piece for the New York Times Magazine about trying to improve her own relatively functional marriage.  The project occurred to her when she realized how little conscious effort she was putting into the relationship, in contrast to almost all other areas of her life (work, kids, redoing the bathroom).

I was particularly moved by two passages.  The first spoke to the link between private relationships and public impact:

In psychiatry, the term “good-enough mother” describes the parent who loves her child well enough for him to grow into an emotionally healthy adult. The goal is mental health, defined as the fortitude and flexibility to live one’s own life — not happiness. This is a crucial distinction. Similarly the “good-enough marriage” is characterized by its capacity to allow spouses to keep growing, to afford them the strength and bravery required to face the world.

And when the goal is leadership, “good-enough” may not be enough. One pattern we’ve observed in our own work is that people who have strong, energizing private relationships, whether with friends or family or partners, have an easier time leading in the public sphere.  They have the emotional energy to stand up and take the inevitable hits and falls.  A counter-intuitive lesson for aspiring leaders is to strengthen their connections to their favorite people, who may not have anything to do with their vision for change.

The second paragraph that got me touched on the fundamental contract between any two people, in any organization, including a family unit.  As a note of caution, I’m giving away the ending here:

Over the months Dan and I applied ourselves to our marriage, we struggled, we bridled, we jockeyed for position. Dan grew enraged at me; I pulled away from him. I learned things about myself and my relationship with Dan I had worked hard not to know. But as I watched Dan sleep — his beef-heart recipe earmarked, his power lift planned — I felt more committed than ever. I also felt our project could begin in earnest: we could demand of ourselves, and each other, the courage and patience to grow.

The courage and patience to grow. One definition of leadership may be to pull those things out of ourselves and each other.

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  • Adam

    I found and read the original article, and I have to say I think you captured the strongest passage of the article. The rest of it seemed to be just a tad a self-centred.

    In fact it was so self-centred, and the discussion of therapy and counselling so unpleasant, that I immediately got up and went and gave my wife a big hug.

    It made me think – maybe just the act of dedicating oneself to the ‘good enough’ marriage is enough. Not entirely sure that it needs to be accompanied by hours of self-analysis like Elizabeth and her husband went through in order to be effective.

    Happy Holidays!

  • http://www.rafaelcorrales.com Rafael Corrales

    Happy New Year Frances and Anne!

    I’ve been missing your blog posts — are we going to see more soon? :) They’re great for making us all think about the various niches of leadership.

    • Anne Morriss

      Yes! We’ll be back in action this month.