Today is my 21st wedding anniversary, which is odd since I’m still 29 years old (#IWish). Twenty-one years in a relationship is a long time to create memories, take advantage of opportunities, and learn from the ups and downs. As I reflect on these past few years (21 “few” years to be exact), I find that a lot of the lessons I’ve learned apply to both my personal and professional lives. More specifically, I have learned a lot of business leadership lessons from love and marriage. So, let’s have the talk, shall we? Yes, that talk. Let’s chat relationships and how they teach you business leadership lessons and how to be more effective leaders.
Common Traits of Effective Business Leaders
Popular business magazines such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Inc. share article upon article detailing traits all great leaders possess. While their lists overlap a bit, most often they vastly differ from each other. For example, one article I recently read listed self-awareness, integrity, and endurance as key. In another, self-managing, accountability, and team building topped the list. And yet another pointed out that great leaders are empathetic, flexible, and resilient. Aspiring effective leaders may feel overwhelmed thinking they have to adopt all of the different traits. But, don’t worry! Time is on your side.
As you’re learning business leadership lessons and applying them to your job, you’ll become the effective leader you want to be. As Vince Lombardi said:
Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.
Sure, many leaders have potential early on. But, great leaders work hard to develop the characteristics and skills that ultimately make them effective leaders. So, what does this have to do with love and marriage?
Why Relationships Matter in Business Leadership
Whether or not you have been romantically involved with a spouse or a partner, everyone can relate to interpersonal relationships. From our earliest moments in life, we engage in human contact, either with biological or adoptive parents or caregivers. For better or for worse, we learn through modeling and interaction how to connect and partner with others. As a result, we walk out into the world with healthy or not so healthy habits. And, if we’re honest, most of us have a little bit of both. Then, and at nearly the same time as our careers begin to blossom, many of us get involved in serious romantic relationships. All of this human contact and interaction teaches us valuable business leadership lessons. As Jack Welch says:
Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
In terms of business leadership lessons, if the ability to influence others is what yields effective leaders, then learning from our closest interpersonal relationships, including those involving love and marriage, is one of the most powerful business schools we can attend.
10 Business Leadership Lessons Learned From Love and Marriage
I won’t lie. My marriage has been both rocky and smooth sailing and everything in between. The good news? I’ve had a lot of opportunities to grow. Here are ten business leadership lessons I’ve learned from my 21 years of marriage:
1. Determine and keep your eye on your final destination.
When @TroyPattee and I got married 21 years ago, we had only one goal: to be happily married for eternity. Young and naive, we thought that was as easy as saying “I do!”, staying married, and being happy. While we may not have understood what we’ve since experienced and call the relationship roller coaster (the ups and downs inherent in any relationship), we got the first part right. We set our sights on a final destination and we’ve worked hard to head in that direction.
Just like in marriage, business leaders need to have clear goals and keep their eyes on the prize. To do that, ask yourself: “Does this (strategy, tactic, decision, activity, investment, etc.) lead us closer to or further away from our top goal?” If your answer is even a baby step closer to the latter, and even if it’s tempting to say “yes,” say “no” and stay focused on what matters most—your top priorities.
The major reason for setting a goal is for what it makes of you to accomplish it. What it makes of you will always be the far greater value than what you get. — Jim Rohn
2. Create clarity.
As a young single female with knight-in-shining-armor stars in my eyes, I never would have thought relationships included roles, responsibilities, and accountability. I mean, in the movies romantic relationships are all about PDA, dating, and sex, right? The good news is yes, they are. But, only in part. While romance is key to successful relationships, real life (as opposed to movie life) happens outside of the bedroom or date nights where day-to-day tasks get done. Identifying who wears what hat, communicating expectations, and following up on progress is critical. And not just at the outset, but also as tasks shift or as one hat comes off and is replaced with another hat. While clarity leads to happy relationships, nothing is less sexy than confusion and missed expectations due to a lack of it.
Similarly, clarity on roles, responsibilities, and accountability is essential to successful teams. Some of the toughest business leadership lessons learned occur from not being aligned on these things. To achieve clarity as a leader, ask yourself:
- Does everyone in our organization have a clear understanding of their position’s mission and how it ties into the company’s top goals?
- Do they know their roles and responsibilities and critical action items for the next 30, 60, and/or 90 days?
- Are they comfortable delegating, saying “no” to, or delaying tasks if they are not aligned with their goals?
- Have we created a safe environment for regular accountability meetings to report progress—including successes and failures?
- Do team members have a way to brainstorm and find solutions to problem areas?
- If team members have advanced in skill set or no longer play a specific role, is there a process in place to evaluate their performance and make changes, if necessary?
Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. — General George Patton
3. Enjoy the journey and stay the course.
Have you been on the relationship roller coaster? Are you familiar with its ups and downs? In 21 years of marriage, we have had the highest highs and the lowest lows. Some of our highs have included having children, getting great educations, having careers we’ve loved, traveling all over the world, enjoying a supportive family, having good friends, owning a house that’s truly a home, having a wonderful church community, and creating too many amazing memories to count. On the other hand, we’ve had lows, including experiencing serious health challenges, learning to parent teenagers, battling mental illness, losing loved ones, having financial stress and challenging work situations, and much more. While each relationship is different, one thing is similar: all couples experience both highs and lows.
Just like relationships have their highs and lows, so, too, do businesses. In terms of business leadership lessons, the best business leaders understand the cycle and look for bright spots in the midst of the lows. Most importantly, they stay the course and see the stormy weather through to sunnier days. As this quote states:
Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm. —Publilius Syrus
To enjoy the journey and stay the course, ask yourself:
- What can I do today to enjoy my work journey?
- Who can I express gratitude to for making my job most enjoyable?
- How can I learn from my lows to best appreciate my highs?
- Where do I have the most influence?
- What can I do to focus on those things I can influence?
- How can I stay the course in stormy weather?
4. Look for the good.
If you’re like me, when tough times hit, focusing on the good around you, not to mention the good in others, can be difficult. At one particularly hard time in my life, I found myself only able to see @TroyPattee‘s weaknesses. Inspired by the 365 Grateful project, I bought a journal and used it to capture his awesomeness. I began each day by jotting down the great things he did or his particularly amazing attributes from the day before. In no time, all I could see were the positives in him. This gratitude practice had a huge ripple effect. I saw everyone, including myself, in a much more positive light. Then, I started appreciating little things each day. And soon, though I still had my finger on the pulse of reality, life in general looked downright cheery.
In business, we often get so focused on the goal and ROI and all of the tasks in between that we don’t make time to see the silver lining. To look for the good, ask yourself:
- What successes, small or large, have I, my team, my company, or even our partners had recently?
- Who is showing up in amazing ways and really making a difference?
- How are we, as a team and/or company, positively impacting the world?
- What are all of the great things that make up my day-to-day work environment, opportunities, and other job-related tasks and activities?
- How can I celebrate these successes and otherwise show gratitude for them?
What we see depends mainly on what we look for. — John Lubbock
5. Play to your strengths.
For my husband and me, no statement could be more true than opposites attract. Can you relate to experiencing this in your relationships? I’m an ENTJ and a red/blue personality according to Meyers Briggs and The People Code tests. In contrast, Troy is an ISFP and a white/yellow personality. Aside from our backgrounds in writing and our love of travel, especially road tripping, we are completely different. And, good thing! When I look at raising our two sons—just one part of our relationship—I don’t know how we’d parent our children, who also are opposite from each other, if Troy and I were the same.
Similarly, team makeups vary. Each person has their unique personalities, education, skills, talents, interests, and background, all of which is valuable. The key in both relationships and in business is to identify and focus on strengths. Ask yourself:
- What are my team members’ strengths?
- In what areas are they weak?
- Where do they want to grow?
- What opportunities do they want to take advantage of to experience that growth?
- How can I help maximize their strengths?
- How can I either help strengthen their weaknesses (if they ask) or otherwise mitigate any challenges they cause?
Assigning roles and responsibilities based on strengths sets people up to succeed. And understanding their motives and basics of their personality will help you know how to handle your interaction with them.
The most incredible beauty and the most satisfying way of life come from affirming your own uniqueness. — Jane Fonda
6. Choose memories over money.
These past 21 years have taught me a lot about money. We have experienced everything from financial abundance to having to sell nearly all of our possessions just to put food on the table. And, wow! How money—or the lack thereof—can turn your marriage upside down! During those times, choosing memories over money always won. One of my favorite quote states:
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
Money, and our relationship with it, can drive crazy negative behavior if we embrace a scarcity or fear-based mentality. I have seen no greater evidence of this than in my own business. As an entrepreneur and CEO, nothing has nearly driven me to drink as much as cashflow anxiety. Those past situations almost paralyzed me. In fight or flight mode, I lost all ability to be productive, creative, and use my skills—the very things that would have helped the business thrive. And empathy or kindness? Not a chance. My entire brain was focused on only one thing—money.
Whether you own your business, manage P&L for your department, or otherwise have financial management responsibilities (including sales goals), remember that cashflow/sales goes up and down. Focus on what you can influence. Do everything within your means to manage your budget, be lean, innovate, create new streams of revenue, etc. Furthermore, prepare for a rainy day with savings and a solid plan. Then, when those rainy days come (and they will), breathe and immediately focus on what you can influence and rely on your preparation. I get that results are important, but not if they come at a cost from focusing solely on finances.
7. Be a lifelong learner and practitioner of effective communication.
I speak Jylese. Troy speaks Troyese. Regardless of our native tongues, each and every one of us speak our own language, right? I exaggerate a little, but let’s face it. We all want to hear and understand and be heard and understood, but we often fail. In our current stage of parenting, our teen boys have given us a run for our money. Have you ever tried to understand a teenage mind outside of your own? It can be downright terrifying/exhausting (with a huge side of fun). Staying on the same page as parents is critical. Instead of deeming ourselves communication experts and getting frustrated at our inability to understand ourselves, each other, or our teens, we sought the help of a therapist. And, wow! What a difference that has made.
Team members are not so different than our marital or familial relationships when it comes to communication. We all want to be heard and understood, but we often have trouble communicating. Investing in team communication help is worth every penny For example:
- Sign your team up for communications training.
- Make tools available like personality tests, 360 reviews, etc.
- Create safe spaces for people to share and be heard.
- Bring in coaches when necessary.
Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life. — Brian Tracy
8. Trust your gut.
@TroyPattee and I were both raised in homes where our fathers worked and our mothers stayed home and raised the children. Neither of us questioned whether we would follow in their footsteps. It was just a given we would. So, when life happened, making it so we both needed to work, and later that I would need to be the sole financial support for our family and Troy would be our children’s primary caregiver, we were thrown for a loop. We questioned whether our setup was right due to the societal norms in our conservative society where two-parent households looked just like ours growing up. We wasted a lot of time and energy instead of trusting our gut. What is right for our family is right, regardless of what everyone else is doing.
I have experienced similar struggles in business which have taught me a lot of business leadership lessons. Watching the trends can lead you to focus all of your effort on just keeping up or trying to simulate what everyone else is doing. It’s the business version of keeping up with the Joneses. But, if it’s not right for your business, it’s not right. Period. End of story. When you’re tempted to shift your focus, go back to step 1. Look at your top goals and again, ask yourself: “Does this (strategy, tactic, decision, activity, investment, etc.) lead us closer to or further away from our top goal?” If the answer is “no,” go back to those things that will move the needle for your business.
… I think it’s smart to listen to other people’s advice, but at the end of the day, you’re the only one who can tell you what’s right for you. — Jennifer Lopez
9. Teamwork makes the dreamwork.
When it comes to business leadership lessons, I love this quote by Michael Jordan:
Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.
The best team members, including bosses or coaches or whoever is at the helm of a team, recognize that individuals may have talent, but nothing is more valuable (or more powerful) than a team—a group of individuals working together to achieve a common goal. Whether in business or in marriage, unity leads to greatness.
The whole is more than the sum of its parts. — Aristotle
Wedding cake is one of wedding goer’s favorite parts of the event, am I right? People love wedding cake so much that one popular tradition started to help couples enjoy it beyond their wedding day—that of saving part of the wedding cake and eating it on the first wedding anniversary (smashing cake in each other’s faces optional). Celebrating our happiest moments and reliving them is a wonderful way to cultivate joy in our lives. Also, it is a great way to help us keep our eye on the prize—stay focused on our goals.
Today, @TroyPattee and I are celebrating our 21st wedding anniversary by doing one of our favorite things—road tripping. This gives us time to reflect on our relationship, enjoy time together, and celebrate the relationship roller coaster ride that has helped us grow so much.
Similar to weddings, businesses need to have their celebrations. Business leadership lessons aren’t easy. A lot of work goes into focusing on goals, performing tasks with precision and quality, and everything else jobs required. So, taking time to reward positive performance as often as possible is key.
People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise and rewards. — Dale Carnegie
Wrapping It All Up
Great leaders embrace a wide variety of traits. Most importantly, they are lifelong learners, applying their skills, education, and characteristics to their job. Love and marriage—or really any interpersonal relationships—teach powerful business leadership lessons. Specifically, I have learned these 10 things:
- Set goals and keep my eye on the prize.
- Create clarity.
- Enjoy the journey and stay the course.
- Look for the good.
- Play to your strengths.
- Choose memories over money.
- Be a lifelong learner and practitioner of effective communication.
- Trust your gut.
- Teamwork makes the dreamwork.
What business leadership lessons have you learned from your interpersonal relationships?