This is the fifth post in the Leadership in Relationship Series.
Title inspired by Terri Garr in Mel Brook’s film, Young Frankenstein Jr.
These days, much has been said about bringing love, awareness and compassion into leadership in the workplace. I like to think it works the other way, too: many of the leadership skills we hone at work are also effective in personal relationships.
Whether you think about it this way or not, you are leading in your personal relationships all the time. When, as parents, you create the rules of the house and enforce them; when as an older sibling you teach a younger one a new skill; when in relationships you bring your vulnerability and or in romantic partnership you initiate sex — these are all, albeit usually unconscious, forms of leadership.
Why, if we are already doing it all the time anyway, is it important and useful to think about leadership in the context of relationship? Because bringing conscious leadership roles into your relationships can be a creative and fantastic way to increase intimacy, reduce unnecessary drama and conflict, and help you take things less personally. This, in turn will reduce the type of sensitivity that keeps you ensnared and increase the type of sensitivity that will serve your loving. How?
Traditional “Leadership” in Love
Let’s say you begin to realize that you are the one in a romantic partnership who mostly initiates sex; you are in the role of initiator. And it’s starting to bother you: You want more balance. Normal and healthy advice would suggest that you talk with your partner about this. Witnessing the issue and bringing up the conversation in and of itself is a form of leadership. You would be taking a stand for the sexual life of the relationship, even though it may make waves.
And, unless you are with a very evolved person who takes in what you say, digests it, and starts initiating, this conversation will likely make waves. Even if you bring it up gently, your partner may feel attacked and try to prove that he or she initiates, too. “Remember that time in Jamaica?” Then you can both avoid the issue by going back and forth about who’s right. Or, your partner may like it that way and say, “I’m sorry, I am just not an initiator –tough!” And leave you alone in your desire for change and feeling powerless in having to make peace with it. Or, your partner may feel “caught” in his or her avoidance behavior and fall into a big pile of shame, leaving you feeling burdened and regretful about having brought the whole thing up.
Hopefully, all this conflict will ultimately lead to the outcome you desire. But what if it doesn’t? And what if you could circumvent some of the potential antagonism with a leadership strategy?
Roles and The CSO Example
We all play many roles, but most of the time we don’t define them clearly. We flow from parent to friend to partner without really experiencing the different parameters of each one. Many roles are in a default setting — we slip into them on autopilot. Have you ever witnessed a grown person regress instantaneously upon seeing their parents? That’s an example of a default role taking over.
When we make roles conscious, we can access our personal power to play our best self through them. Going back to our current example, what if you and your partner, instead of hashing out and through the sexual dynamics in the relationship, decided together to formalize your tendency to initiate into a leadership role, and you both agreed to nominate you as the Chief Sexual Officer* (CSO) of your partnership, in which you are “in charge” of the sex? You may be thinking a) this sounds titillating albeit a bit crazy, and b) why would I do this if that very behavior is what’s frustrating me in the first place?
Taking ownership of default roles by formalizing them with your partner is one way to free you from the power struggles that always entice lovers out of loving. You are not trying to change the nature of things. You are simply accepting what is natural and working with it. More importantly, good leaders know that delegating is an essential part of effective leadership. So in your agreed upon role as CSO, during a spell or event when you know you will not be up to the task, you can delegate the initiating for a time.
Delegate sex? You may be thinking, “That is so uninspired, so unromantic!” I say, to the contrary, it is a time to be creative in your leadership. What about wrapping your beloved in your arms and sensuously whispering: “Hon, I know how hot you are going to look all dressed up on Saturday night. But with meetings all day leading up to the gala, I don’t know if I’m gonna be up to ravishing you properly afterwards. You might have to seduce me if you’re in the mood.”
This is only one somewhat spicy example in a sea of relationship opportunities to formalize leadership. I am definitely the the Chief Kitchen Officer (CKO) of my relationship. My honey doesn’t have the time or yen for food preparation, but I make sure he has the time to do the dishes after (and knows where to put them). Fighting about money? Appoint one partner as the CFO of the relationship. When one partner is in charge of overall care and decision making about finances, it doesn’t mean that the other partner doesn’t know what’s happening financially or doesn’t have a say in how the money is spent. Like a good CFO in a company, the partner in that role must share relevant information, listen to the needs of the partnership and negotiate decisions about how to allocate funds based on shared values.
When you clarify your roles in relationship and bring consciousness to the leadership in them, something sacred happens. All the energy dedicated to jockeying for power and position gets contained in conscious roles, and frees you up to really focus on loving and on things you love to do together. In addition, you must contend with the victim inside, instead of simply being flattened by it or letting the relationship be ruled by it. If you nominate your partner to be the Chief of something, you can’t act like a child when he or she takes a stand. You have put them in that role — now you get to negotiate like an equal. It demands that you not only step into your own authority, as in “authorship” of your life, but you also have a heightened and renewed sense of purpose and direction as a co-leader of a team.
Finally, all relationships can benefit from participants taking what happens in them less personally, and leadership roles are useful in this regard. Every efficient leader must come to that moment when he or she realizes that they will not always be liked or supported in making a choice they know is the right one to make for the team. As the CSO, it is within your right to delegate. And when you do, if your partner doesn’t like to initiate, he or she will simply have to figure it out and step up if they are in the mood.
This kind of structuring takes some effort and agreement as a team. But if it intrigues you, you can access the Leadership in Relationship Series for more articles and tips. And be sure to contact me with questions and on ways I can assist you in leading in your love relationships!
*Playful titles recommended but not required
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!
I can’t tell you how much I love this post on so many levels. Years ago, when I stopped working for a few years to be home full time with our children we decided that I was the Managing Partner of the household. He had a title too but I won’t write it here :). We even went on Vista Print and made ourselves free business cards with our roles in the relationship. Totally silly but it was meaningful as we made decisions and initiated important moments in our relationship. Fabulous and thought provoking. Thanks, Blair!
I LOVE what you did with your husband and the business cards. I hope that someone reads your comments and tries it, because role clarification in relationship is so important and you and your husband are excellent examples of how to put it into practice and feel good about your part on the team, and in carrying forth the team mission! I hope it helped remove unneccesray arguments, because that is a prime advantage.
I wish I had had this advice years ago–brilliant. I have it now and look forward to putting it to use! Thanks Blair!
Stephen, Thanks for reading and I am so glad you have it now.
Blair, I LOVE this! What a brilliant way to have people get themselves out of a rut, bring lightness and play while also bringing more clarity, and ultimately experience more intimacy. Bravo, woman!
Great post! After 28 years of marriage and stumbling into roles whether we wanted them or not, it’s always good to revisit to see if the titles need some tweaking. I’ll have to start coming up with creative titles now…
CDPO (Chief Dog Poop Officer)
As a side note, for the many years I was running my website, my husband call himself the Vice President in Charge of Making Coffee 😉
Awesome, I love it, Kit! Making coffee, or knowing when and how to make good coffee, can definitely be considered to be a leadership skill! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your experience, humor and the big love.