4 Leadership Lessons Learned by Living with a Life Partner

LeadershipTry saying that 4 times really fast! But I digress…

In my head, I’m the boss at home- this may very likely only be true in my head. Nevertheless, I have the furniture set just how I like it. I have the cleaning list and schedule according to my preferences and I also dictate the grocery list. I am queen in my castle.

Unfortunately, I am not the only resident of my castle. I live with the most wonderful partner ever, the Colbster. He is kind and thoughtful and caring. He has an fantastic sense of humor and makes a phenomenal steak. He is also a bit of a slob with wildly different tastes in music and TV. He has different priorities. This makes me better most of the time but it also leads to struggles. Our life together is 95% joy mixed with 5% of us arguing over Top Gear versus Game of Thrones.

Partnering with someone who is so different AND is motivated completely different from you can feel impossible. But I assure you, it’s not. It’s tough but possible.

  1. Think about it from their point of view and reassess your priorities.
    I want my castle to be exactly so. It is important to me that the dishes are cleaned, the fridge is organized and the household runs on my timeline. He wants to get comfortable. Talk about his day. Play on the computer. He wants a life that doesn’t involve a schedule. These things while different from me, hold the same weight in day to day life. I need vacuumed floors about as much as he needs video game time.Part of why we work so well together is that we balance each other out. Diversity benefits everyone. We bring different perspectives to the table. We can partner to create better solutions when we understand the problem from different viewpoints. The whole point of conversation is engagement.
    A good leader encourages the sharing various points of view and priorities.
  2. Listen.
    The Colbster likes to take the scenic route. I like to take the fastest route. We both hate traffic and hate being late. We bicker over the route to take every time we get into the car. Road trips are essentially filled with debate over highway versus back roads. What I have found is that the times I listen to why he thinks the back roads will be better or why he thinks the main road will be faster, we don’t fight. We discuss. I hear why he’s made his choice. I explain why I think otherwise. We then adjust our expectations, pick a route together and move on.Fifty percent of the time, we go his way. The other half, we go mine. It starts with listening to the other side.
    A good leader encourages sharing diverse opinions and actually listens to them.
  3. Remove the assumptions and ask for what you want.
    I say tomatoes, he says donuts. It’s like we’re not even speaking the same language. Communication is filled with assumptions. I assume when I ask him to “clean the kitchen” that those three words includes a very specific list of items to focus on and items to leave be. I am always disappointed when he “cleans the kitchen” because he’s wiped down the spice rack but left the sink dirty. Clean the kitchen does not share the expectations clearly.When I clear and specific about what I want and what I expect, I get exactly the results I want – sometimes even better than I had expected.
    A good leader will just spell it out, step by step.
  4. Say thank you.
    One of my biggest failings as a partner is not recognizing all the things that are done for me. I come home from work tired and cranky and I don’t say thanks for stocking up the firewood or doing the dishes or being a partner who is just as excited to see me as the dog. It can be incredibly demoralizing for him when I come home filled with angst from a day he didn’t participate in. I pick on the one thing he didn’t do (which is usually small & insignificant compared to all he accomplishes).In those moments I singlehandedly break down the goodwill I’ve built up. Instead, I should walk in and recognize how he has helped instead of what he missed.
    A good leader acknowledges all the good things, not just their good things.

I’m not a leader at home because I think I’m the boss. I am a leader at home when I choose to practice leadership. And, as it turns out, I’m a pretty crappy leader at home. But I’m working on it because home is important to me and because it’s a “safe” place to practice leadership. Ultimately, the Colbster and I can eventually agree on The Wire.

Opening image by Flickr Creative Commons user Andrew Becraft.

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