Leadership skills I learned in marriage
In case you don’t know, I just got married. And as you can probably tell from the title, my married life’s been fun.
Leadership is indeed a pleasant byproduct of my marriage. You may think it’s pretty unromantic in marriage to talk about another L-word. But it’s actually way more romantic than you think.
My husband S has always been the biggest supporter of my career. Having a few more years of work experience, he is always a great source of career tips. Now we are married, and there’ve been more “friendly” discussions over how to better share housework, S came up with another brilliant tip: We are a team, why don’t you use your leadership skills to manage our team.
Marriage is also teamwork. Why not utilize leadership skills to facilitate the teamwork.
This idea dawned on me. I may not yet be a leader at work, but isn’t marriage also a good place to learn how to lead? There are so many similarities between them: Just like at work, we share the coffee machine, and have to deal with tedious tasks. Just like at work, there are conscious and subconscious biases over who should play which role. And just like at work, we are seeking personal value and long-term growth together.
So what exactly have I learned?
First, a good leader should be specific about her demand, especially when leading someone junior. The first time I told S to mop the floor, I was shocked. He fetched our mop on the patio, which had been lying there for months and soaked with rainwater, and started mopping the bedroom. The mop was so wet that I could see water spots tracking him from the patio all the way to the bedroom.
I then realized I was being too vague. The better way to lead the inexperienced is to break down the project into actionable steps, and be more specific about what you want: Rainwater is not necessarily not dirty, so let’s. not use it. Instead, fill a bucket with water to rinse the mop. And make sure to wring it out so that it’s not dripping wet…
Be specific about what, how and why. It not only makes it easier to execute, but also ensures the quality of results.
Second, never over-trust comparative advantage. Comparative advantage is an economic term which means the ability to produce something more efficiently than the others. Naturally we want to assign work to people having the comparative advantage. But, should we? Comparative advantage is not carved in stone. It can and often shift from one to another. For example, oxtail stew is my signature dish. But after learning the recipe, S has quickly become the chief chef making it. He is now not only more familiar with the process, but even getting inventive and adding his own twist to the recipe.
This further proves the importance of jumping out of current comparatives and creating space for others to grow. I’m not as good a driver as S. But if S is always the one driving, I will never get better. And if I don’t have the opportunity to grow, I will never get to sit behind the wheel. This vicious cycle will never break if we judge people by their current ability and fail to see their potential to grow.
Besides, I don’t want to be the only person mopping just because I know better.
Last but not least, always maximize the impact. A bad leader will waste resources on low-impact projects. This is not only counterproductive but also discouraging to the team. For example, probably a controversial one, making the bed. If I ask S to make the bed every day, nobody sees his work, no difference is made, and at the end of each day, his hard work goes down the drain. However, he’s been very happy to clean our cat’s litter box. Even though it’s a smellier job, it makes a huge difference to our cat, which in turn validates his efforts.
Work is unlimited but energy is not, so it’s important to identify and prioritize work that will create a bigger impact.
Be specific. Make space for growth. Maximize the impact.
Of course, leading family is never the same as leading colleagues. And I’m not here to give you marriage advice or career advice based on my marriage.
Leadership is not about power; it is about mindset.
What I want to tell from my story is that, you don’t have to be a leader to get leadership. Leadership is not about power; it is about mindset. Position yourself to be the one in control. Think like a lead. Reflect like a lead. Put words to work. Be your own leader.