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Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #86
(August 4, 2020)

What Marriage Has Taught Me About Leadership ...

When I'm asked "How long have you been married"? my response is always "Not long enough!" While you might think I'm just being glib ... not so fast. This week marks our 30th wedding anniversary and, in many ways, I feel like we're just getting started. I guess the fact that I've found my soul mate, my best friend, and my life partner all in one person makes me a pretty lucky individual.

When you consider that our initial meeting came as a result of a bizarre set of circumstances, this milestone becomes even more significant. True story ... I was invited by a very good friend to be a 'stand-in' for a blind date who didn't show up for a dinner he and his wife had planned with Jessica as the honored guest. As a result, I was the fortunate one who got to meet this amazing person instead of the person originally planned. (His loss; my gain; big grin.) [Thank you Mark Evanylo for the invite that forever changed my life!]

As I think about it, one of the key ingredients to our long-term success is when we got married Jessica and I decided that I would make all the big decisions and she would make all the small decisions. And, in 30 years of marriage, there's yet to be a big decision. Curious ...

On a more serious note (and putting aside all the celebratory activities for a moment), I'd like to spend a few minutes in this week's CORE Bites reflecting on a number of leadership lessons I've learned from being married. Not all of these lessons were easy to learn. But, they've made me a better leader nonetheless. In case you're wondering how this works, let me remind you the strength of a marriage is all about the relationship—so it makes sense that any lessons learned about approaches and practices that enhance a relationship will easily translate into the relationships we have as leaders at work.

Marriage requires a deep and unwavering commitment through the unexpected—through the "good and the bad"—and so does leading a business or leading a team. Commitment (in addition to the HVAs listed below) must remain the driving force. Lead strong!

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

People follow visions that move them toward something of value beyond what they can see today. People won't buy-in if the vision is no bigger than your personality. This week (starting today) spend some time reflecting on the qualities and values you bring as a leader. Here are a few HVAs (my lessons learned from marriage) to stimulate that reflective time:

  • The Best Headspace for Making Decisions: Don't attempt to handle a problem or make important decisions when you are angry or highly emotional. This is true whether the emotion is negatively induced or when you're on an emotional high. As leaders, we must develop the discipline of waiting to respond—we often move too quickly and make the wrong decisions when we act out of an emotional response to immediate circumstances. A huge learning lesson for me is during these emotional times we must 'guard our tongue' because it's better to hold off on saying what you will later regret.
  • It's Okay to Be Wrong: Pride and ego can be a nasty thing in a marriage ... as well as when you're leading a team. If your pride and/or your ego make you unwilling to entertain other people's ideas, then those relationships will be compromised. It's okay to be confident but it's not okay to be certain that you're always right because that leads to a zero-sum game where everyone else must be—by definition—wrong. Not a healthy way to enhance a relationship. I have to admit, the first time I said to Jessica, "I'm wrong. You're right." was not easy. But what's come out of this is her trust in me grew. As a leader, if you can lead your team to come up with better solutions simply because you can accept the idea that you can be wrong, then why not?
  • You Don't Have to Go it Alone: Asking for help has never been one of my strong suits. So it took a long time for me to understand that it's important for a spouse to feel like you need them—because you do. It's great to be independent and self-sufficient, but allowing yourself to be vulnerable and open with your spouse is what builds trust and self-esteem in a marriage. And this is really no different as a leader in an organization. Knowing that 'none of us is as smart as all of us' makes it important to break down those barriers and to open up the conversation. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness!
  • Are You Self-Focused or Others-Focused?: Whether in a meeting room, in a coaching session, in a team meeting, or when you're sitting down at the dinner table with your spouse and family, is your agenda self-focused or others-focused? If it's too self-focused, you'll frequently miss hearing the true and important perspectives of others. This alienates others because it will be obvious that you've already determined the agenda and how that agenda will play out. A powerful way to overcome this obstacle is to determine the purpose of important conversations. This requires listening with all your senses. If someone wants to talk to you about a problem, don't immediately jump in and try and solve it. People want to know that you care enough to listen. It's not hard to do; it just takes discipline.
  • Neil's 'Suitor-in-the-Wings' Philosophy: I wake up every day knowing that there are a half-dozen (probably more) guys waiting in the wings for me to mess up so royally that it will give Jessica a good reason to look elsewhere. You've got to believe that this understanding helps guide my behaviors to ensure she sees no reason to seek greener pastures. In a similar way, we have to understand there are lots of organizations looking to hire your best people. What are you doing right now to ensure your best people don't see a need to also seek those greener pastures?
  • Life is in the Journey ... Not in the Destination: Jessica and I are highly task-oriented individuals. We've learned to be very intentional about our energies and priorities when we are knee-deep in tasks or projects. As leaders, we have to keep reminding ourselves that people are more important than process and destination. Yes, we all have goals that need to be accomplished; we have places to go; and decisions to make. But at the end of the day, the commitment to do all of these things will not be determined by the process, but by the relationship. The people. Many moons from now, the people around you will not remember exactly what you said or what they did as a team. But they will remember how the experience made them feel and how it changed their lives.
  • Respect and Humility: Whether in a marriage or when leading a team of people, any success you enjoy will be based on the respect you have for the people around you and for the humility you demonstrate—even when things are difficult. No matter what stage you're at in your life's journey, treat all people with respect and positivity.

I'd love to hear how these HVAs work for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"Leaders live by choice, not by accident."

— Mark Gorman —