This is the third post in the Leadership in Relationship Series.
I. Although it was a special Valentine’s Day dinner, in a very pricey restaurant, we could hear the conversation of the couple next to us all too well. They weren’t loud. We were quiet.
You know how that sometimes is. You just can’t get it up to play the “romantic dinner” scene. There’s too much pressure to feel connected, for the food to be amazing, for it to be perfect.
The famously overused question “What’s the matter?” never worked in that relationship, so I dared not ask it. It was always followed by the all too common answer, “Nothing.”
So we sat. Then, amazingly, he spoke up.
“What could we do that would make this dinner REALLY memorable?
His inquiry perked things up and jolted us out of the stalemate.
“Let’s ask the waitress,” I playfully suggested, as she was imminently approaching.
“Can I get you something to drink?”
“Um, what would you suggest for a couple that’s out of things to talk about, overworked and mildly irritated for no apparent reason?”
The three of us played well together. And when she left, the two of us began plotting to take over all romantic holidays and make them extinct. It was a meal to remember for many reasons.
Lead by inquiry. This is such an important factor of being able to lead in relationships. The guy asked the right question, with the right tone, at the perfect time. You can lead your relationship from one place to another through inquiry. It’s an art. Learn it, and you’ve got a good chance of relationship success.
II. Adam, after years of being the stay at home partner, got so involved in a volunteer school board project that they ended up hiring him, paying for skills he didn’t previously know he had. He was alive and on fire.
Although Charlie, Adam’s partner of 10 years, supported Adam, he was also jealous. The enthusiasm that Adam displayed reminded him of how unhappy he was at his well-paying job. Adam noticed Charlie was being distant and dismissive. He couldn’t understand his beloved partner’s lack of engagement. After a couple of fights, Charlie realized he didn’t want to take his dissatisfaction out on Adam. He wanted to search for more meaningful work. He found an amazing job that lit him up, too.
Lead by Example: By following his heart and diving into work, Adam paved the way for Charlie’s expansion. Leading by Example is a less verbal type of leadership, good for those who are “talking averse”. It is a type of leadership that happens naturally, but it can also be an effective strategy when you keep saying you want to change something as a couple (e.g. eating healthier).
III.“He’s so crabby all the time! We just sit there like lumps, watching the TV.”
“What would you like to be doing?” I asked.
Amy listed a number of things. Most of them were very active.
“So do them,” I suggested.
“But,” Amy pleaded, “then we wouldn’t be together!”
She was in a quandary. “Invite him along.”
So Amy signed up for a hiking group. Ed liked hiking. But he wanted to watch the games the first times she went. The third time, however, he surprised her by saying yes. She was thrilled.
Lead by Moving in a Different Direction Amy engaged in another powerful form of leadership in relationship, by changing gears. Like leading by example, moving in a different direction and changing things up can be facilitated with no discussion!
IV. Jason was listening to Molly. She was distraught about an interaction she had with her sister. She went round and round, playing it over, seeking relief. He knew that he was not allowed to “fix it,” but that’s all he wanted to do. Listening to his beloved wife in a seemingly illogical tailspin made him feel helpless and was frankly a little maddening.
He wanted to do something to ease her pain. And then he remembered: “She just wants to be understood.” He woke up and saw Molly. He recognized what had upset her.
“Sounds like you really felt ignored. That stings.”
“Yes!” She said. “I felt really ignored. And I hate that!” Jason, Molly’s husband of 10 years, actually knew that about her. Now that Molly felt understood, something lifted. She stopped cycling the story. They felt close.
Lead by listening and Reflecting back. Listening is a great relationship skill, but the leadership part of listening comes in the reflecting back. This reflection is not an analysis. It is simply a mirror; your understanding of what is being said — explicitly or not.
Do you resonate? How do you lead in relationship? Leadership skills can help reduce drama and increase fun, creativity and satisfaction in our relationships. Want to learn how to stand in your authority in intimacy? Don’t miss your chance, in the Intimate Authority Online Course, starting May, 18 2015!
It will be impossible for anyone to read this post and not resonate with at least one (if not more!) of your well articulated scenarios and solutions. Tonight the one that I’m feeling is the “Lead by Listening and Reflecting Back” People want to be heard and feel truly seen and understood. It’s hard to believe that listening and reflecting back can be such powerful validation in a relationship – but it is.
Well done, Blair!
Thanks, Alli! It is such a powerful way to lead someone or both people out of a morass. It is simple and can be so hard. I hope framing it as a leadership skill can help people learn and use it more effectively.
Great take on leading in relationships, Blair! It can be tough when two people see things differently. I really liked the “lead by inquiry” message because asking the right questions can open a dialogue and help a relationship gain footing. I would add, that phrasing the question properly is probably critical too. Word choice, coupled with tone and body language can create beautiful things! Enjoyed!
Thanks for reading and great addition, Terri! Phrasing, word choice, tone and body language have such an impact in leading in relationship.
Thanks, Lise. Means a lot!
“Lead by Moving in a Different Direction”- yes!
I’ve tended to always go in new directions instead of stagnating, waiting for agreement in a relationship of any sort. I’m comfortable letting people do their own thing, and appreciate being given space to express myself and live a fulfilling life. I’ve heard time and again, “Where’s the old Betsy? The one I used to know?” I guess some people are scared of other’s growth and/or change?
Betsy, I feel a kinship with you in this regard. When you boldly change, it forces others in relationship to face questions about who they are, how they will be relating with the new you and if they will still be loved. It takes a strong person to be in a relationship and allow others to move in different directions while you move in yours, but it sure keeps things dynamic, exciting and alive.
Such good advice, Blair. The “different direction” piece reminds me of lessons from David Schnarch’s book, Passionate Marriage.
There’s certainly a lot of cross-over to other contexts. Many a senior management team could benefit from exactly these same lessons!
All the best, Blair — it’s always a pleasure to read your stuff!
Dan, thank you so much for reading and your kind reflections. I will definitely check out that book; can’t believe it slipped by me!
You hit the nail on the head. There is a parallel between leadership in intimacy and leadership at work that I am always trying to illuminate. Thanks for your help in seeing and naming it.
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I really like the way you stated the technique AFTER you gave each example. If you had titled each section with the technique, I would have known how the story was going to go and skimmed. Great style!