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10 April, 2012 Posted by John G. Self Posted in Healthcare, Leadership
4 comments

Thinking Out Loud: Equating Leadership to Marriage

Posted April 10th, 2012 | Author: John G. Self

I have a bad habit.  I drive my wife crazy because of my tendency, more often than I realize, to think out loud.

Consider this post a written version of me thinking out loud.

Now, here is where you can play a role:  I would like you to take these ideas out for a test drive.  Take them around the block and share your thoughts with me.  In healthcare we can make things hopelessly complex.  In contrast, when we try to simplify a concept or process, we sometimes go too far in the other direction.  Help me build on this idea.


If one secret to consistently delivering exceptional and safe care is to instill an organizational culture that includes having caregivers think of their patients as relatives that they want to protect from harm, then equating excellent leadership to a dynamic and successful marriage makes sense to me.

Great marriages, I have learned the hard way, are built on, among other things, mutual respect, trust, and an unwavering devotion to one another.  In a good marriage there is a stream of emotional commitment that compels a mate to delight and surprise their partners.  But at the core, there must be mutual respect, trust, devotion to one another and the success of the relationship.

I have also learned that it helps if you can learn to check your ego at the front door.  Ego is the first cousin of arrogance which is a cancer that will spread and eventually kill a relationship.

Here is where I make the connection between a good marriage and good leadership.  To me it is obvious.

Healthcare organizations are growing increasingly concerned with the rate and cost of employee turnover and how they can empower their people to move the organization to superior performance, both in quality, safety, service and financially.

Empowering employees requires that leaders and employees have a relationship that is built on mutual respect, trust, and a devotion to one another and the success of the organization.

If you do not have those relational qualities in place, be careful.  Divorces are messy, they can damage careers and they always hurt the organization.

© 2012 John Gregory Self

© 2014 John Gregory Self

4 comments

  1. [...] didn’t intend for the Equating Leadership to Marriage post to have multiple parts, but we got a wonderful comment from one of our readers, Supriya Grade, [...]

  2. [...] didn’t intend for the Equating Leadership to Marriage post to have multiple parts, but we got a wonderful comment from one of our readers, Supriya Grade, [...]

  3. Supriya Gade says:

    This is a great thought, comparing marriage and an organization with strong leadership! It made me think and here are two cents of my thoughts…

    Good Marriage and a Good Leadership

    • In a good Marriage spouses LISTEN to each other, understand each other. All that understanding is reflected in action. Commitment, Love etc are not just words to speak at altar but they are reflected in one’s acts. When trash is full and house is about to stink, one will throw it out no matter who’s turn it was. Confrontation and blame games can always be done later, no need to let house stink just to wait to do that.
    • In a good Leadership, Leader and Followers are one with the organizational mission and values. It is not just the information you need to listen to in your orientation sessions but also something to reflect into your daily tasks when you resume to your work. You don’t blame each other for loose ends; you first tie them up and later figure out why were they loose in the first place.

    • In a good Marriage, one does not try to change other. Differences are accepted and celebrated which makes them a complete unit and prepare them to face the world as a wholesome couple.
    • In a good Leadership, it is not the only leader or the management but each employee knows and accepts the joint responsibility of fulfilling organization’s mission. And when such is being done respect and acceptance is shown to all personality trait variations organization wide. Some do needs to be lion to go out and get it, some do needs to be wolf to howl and alert others and so on… Everyone is proud of their variations and encouraging for other’s traits. It makes them a whole pack.

    • In a good Marriage, spouses love each other, need each other but are not dependent on each other for every small thing. It is nice when sometimes you call other to share minute and minute detail of your day but making that obsession is not a healthy marriage. Need for sharing should not be crippling. Or else it is pure Gossip Partnership you have entered into.
    • In a good Leadership, everyone is a part of process and they empower each other. Though they are dependent on other departments to get their work done, they do not interfere where they don’t belong or constantly seek advice for the tasks which they should be able to do on their own. Unnecessary meetings or phone calls are avoided. Emphasis is on sharing quality information, not the quantity.

    • In a good Marriage, one does not blame responsibility on other. Both are responsible to maintain relationship. ‘He/she just does not spend time with me!’ Did you do all that you can i.e. switched off TV, matched your schedules, cancelled outing with your friends etc to just be with your partner before you made that accusation?
    • In a good Leadership, excuses have no place. Nobody is hesitant to go beyond what is stated in their job description to achieve maximum growth for organization as well as personal profession advancement. They know that if you are willing to do more than you are paid to do, eventually you will be paid to do more than you do.

    • In a good Marriage, you know that there is no such thing as a perfect marriage, only perfect moments. You accept the good personality traits as well as bad habits of your spouse. ‘I will ignore the behaviors now and change them later’ doesn’t work. You should be prepared to live with what you got and not in the illusions of the spouse who doesn’t even exist.
    • In a good Leadership, you are not swept away by the idea of idealism but motivated for excellence. Not only you help each other augment their strengths but you also assist in compensating for weaknesses. Leader knows exactly what his followers are capable of and followers do not expect their leader to be magician, to pull rabbits out of his hat every now and then!

    • In a good Marriage, nothing that matters is brushed under the carpet. Spouses have the maturity to talk it out and confront. Their priority is not to caress each other’s ego just to make their partner feel happy. But their priority is optimum personal growth and relationship improvement.
    • In a good Leadership, professional roles are never held above the system efficiency goals. Not to say that everyone should be criticized all the time, but there is an open culture in an organization where suggestions, complaints and feedbacks, may they come from any one in system, have prime role in molding organizational philosophy and functionality.

    • In a good Marriage, spouses flatter each other in public but critic each other in private, and not vice versa. Spouses nourish each other and give the best endowment they can for their partner’s growth and success.
    • In a good Leadership, teamwork is the focus. Everyone is so busy to do the work in most excellent way possible; there is hardly any time to contest to take a credit for it. And when such credit is imparted on an individual level instead of a team, that individual would extend the credit automatically to a team not because of the sense of obligation but the compassion that is felt when you operate is such a dynamic and fulfilling team environment.

    • In a good Marriage, spouses are patient and forgiving. They are ready to give time and effort into this relationship with the belief that it is worth it. ‘I will get out of this sinking boat before I get hurt’ is not the attitude one needs! Guess what… you might leave this boat now but same attitude will follow in each boat you go and ultimately either you will sink every boat you will be in or sink yourself all the time with similar insecurities!
    • In a good Leadership, everyone knows that the changing people or situation is not the solution but changing attitude is. Challenges are part of learning process. Every organization will face that, and more they excel in it, more expansion in knowledge and growth will be achieved. Leader or followers in such organizations are never debilitated with slightest hint of adversities. They hold their ground and work through whatever may come. Being there, strong… is all that counts!!

  4. Supriya Gade says:

    This is a great thought, comparing marriage and an organization with strong leadership! It made me think and here are two cents of my thoughts…

    Good Marriage and a Good Leadership

    • In a good Marriage spouses LISTEN to each other, understand each other. All that understanding is reflected in action. Commitment, Love etc are not just words to speak at altar but they are reflected in one’s acts. When trash is full and house is about to stink, one will throw it out no matter who’s turn it was. Confrontation and blame games can always be done later, no need to let house stink just to wait to do that.
    • In a good Leadership, Leader and Followers are one with the organizational mission and values. It is not just the information you need to listen to in your orientation sessions but also something to reflect into your daily tasks when you resume to your work. You don’t blame each other for loose ends; you first tie them up and later figure out why were they loose in the first place.

    • In a good Marriage, one does not try to change other. Differences are accepted and celebrated which makes them a complete unit and prepare them to face the world as a wholesome couple.
    • In a good Leadership, it is not the only leader or the management but each employee knows and accepts the joint responsibility of fulfilling organization’s mission. And when such is being done respect and acceptance is shown to all personality trait variations organization wide. Some do needs to be lion to go out and get it, some do needs to be wolf to howl and alert others and so on… Everyone is proud of their variations and encouraging for other’s traits. It makes them a whole pack.

    • In a good Marriage, spouses love each other, need each other but are not dependent on each other for every small thing. It is nice when sometimes you call other to share minute and minute detail of your day but making that obsession is not a healthy marriage. Need for sharing should not be crippling. Or else it is pure Gossip Partnership you have entered into.
    • In a good Leadership, everyone is a part of process and they empower each other. Though they are dependent on other departments to get their work done, they do not interfere where they don’t belong or constantly seek advice for the tasks which they should be able to do on their own. Unnecessary meetings or phone calls are avoided. Emphasis is on sharing quality information, not the quantity.

    • In a good Marriage, one does not blame responsibility on other. Both are responsible to maintain relationship. ‘He/she just does not spend time with me!’ Did you do all that you can i.e. switched off TV, matched your schedules, cancelled outing with your friends etc to just be with your partner before you made that accusation?
    • In a good Leadership, excuses have no place. Nobody is hesitant to go beyond what is stated in their job description to achieve maximum growth for organization as well as personal profession advancement. They know that if you are willing to do more than you are paid to do, eventually you will be paid to do more than you do.

    • In a good Marriage, you know that there is no such thing as a perfect marriage, only perfect moments. You accept the good personality traits as well as bad habits of your spouse. ‘I will ignore the behaviors now and change them later’ doesn’t work. You should be prepared to live with what you got and not in the illusions of the spouse who doesn’t even exist.
    • In a good Leadership, you are not swept away by the idea of idealism but motivated for excellence. Not only you help each other augment their strengths but you also assist in compensating for weaknesses. Leader knows exactly what his followers are capable of and followers do not expect their leader to be magician, to pull rabbits out of his hat every now and then!

    • In a good Marriage, nothing that matters is brushed under the carpet. Spouses have the maturity to talk it out and confront. Their priority is not to caress each other’s ego just to make their partner feel happy. But their priority is optimum personal growth and relationship improvement.
    • In a good Leadership, professional roles are never held above the system efficiency goals. Not to say that everyone should be criticized all the time, but there is an open culture in an organization where suggestions, complaints and feedbacks, may they come from any one in system, have prime role in molding organizational philosophy and functionality.

    • In a good Marriage, spouses flatter each other in public but critic each other in private, and not vice versa. Spouses nourish each other and give the best endowment they can for their partner’s growth and success.
    • In a good Leadership, teamwork is the focus. Everyone is so busy to do the work in most excellent way possible; there is hardly any time to contest to take a credit for it. And when such credit is imparted on an individual level instead of a team, that individual would extend the credit automatically to a team not because of the sense of obligation but the compassion that is felt when you operate is such a dynamic and fulfilling team environment.

    • In a good Marriage, spouses are patient and forgiving. They are ready to give time and effort into this relationship with the belief that it is worth it. ‘I will get out of this sinking boat before I get hurt’ is not the attitude one needs! Guess what… you might leave this boat now but same attitude will follow in each boat you go and ultimately either you will sink every boat you will be in or sink yourself all the time with similar insecurities!
    • In a good Leadership, everyone knows that the changing people or situation is not the solution but changing attitude is. Challenges are part of learning process. Every organization will face that, and more they excel in it, more expansion in knowledge and growth will be achieved. Leader or followers in such organizations are never debilitated with slightest hint of adversities. They hold their ground and work through whatever may come. Being there, strong… is all that counts!!

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