What can marriage teach us about leadership?

With all this talk of weddings and marriage around I wondered what marriage might have to teach us about relationships in the workplace and, in particular, leadership.

Psychologist John Gottman is world renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction; he has thirty-five years of breakthrough research on marriage.

Gottman found in his research that three types of couples succeeded.

Validating – good at communication and compromise

Volatile – lots of conflict and passion – they yell but they also laugh more, fight as equals and enjoy the process of resolving disputes

Conflict avoiding – they agree to disagree and re-affirm their shared values, emphasise the positive and value separateness and autonomy.

He found the destructive reactions were;

  • Criticism and contempt,
  • Defensiveness and withdrawal,
  • Loneliness and isolation.

It was important to have what he calls the Magic Ratio of 5 positive interactions for each negative one.

Yes, well, that is marriage of course!  Leaders have to be out there don’t they, leading from the front.  No room for compromise or avoiding conflict.

But surely a successful leader always needs to be good at communication and have the judgement to know when compromise is required.

In a creative environment, generating the new ideas required in a changing world, there may well be conflict.   You hope for passion and laughter too!  But the leader will need to ensure there is a process for resolving the differences that emerge and that people are treated with respect.

All successful organisations will have corporate and shared values but there still needs to be a place for the different view.  People will need to feel they have the leader’s confidence so that they can act with autonomy.

As for the destructive reactions, constant criticism erodes confidence, energy and motivation.  If there is a problem, sort it and move on.  The slow drip, drip of negativity is like a slowly acting poison.

Any leader who feels contempt for his team, let alone shows it, is in the wrong job.

As for a leader who acts with defensiveness towards their own team on a regular basis, or who withdraws away from them (and there are examples), they aren’t really leaders at all, are they?

These are my views on this, but I’d very much welcome yours.  And as for those of you with long and happy marriages, what secrets have you got to share with the leaders of the future?

‘Why Marriages Succeed or Fail’ by John M. Gottman (Paperback … http://amzn.to/mteZe8 )


Wendy Mason works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her atwendymason@wisewolfconsulting.com or ring ++44(0)7867681439

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