It is Fourth of July weekend as I write this Leading Thoughts. I hope you had a marvelous time. I loved seeing people out in the world celebrating, families joyously reveling in new freedoms and old.
It was the family part that was bittersweet for me. An old friend of mine was just told her husband is filing for divorce. The story is one I’ve heard many times. She was rising in her field and didn’t compensate for the travel and separations well. He had a thriving online business he could run from home. He loved it and was even happy to tend the house. But she was never there. And they lost each other. No one misbehaved, but he is simply done living alone.
This tale overlaid on the Fourth of July reminds me of what I learned from one of America’s top politicians of recent decades. He taught me many things about politics but it was what he did to tend his family that has most stuck with me. Keep in mind as I pass this wisdom on to you, that this man was so elevated that he was in the line of succession for president.
He had misbehaved early in his career and almost lost his marriage. A spiritual change brought a character change and moved him to build strategies for keeping his family whole and feeling deeply loved. Here’s what he did.
First, he kept a phone just for his family, which in his case meant wife and daughter. He always answered it. No one else had the number. They could reach him nearly any time. He was known for answering this phone overseas and in the Oval Office. Imagine what this meant to his little girl and to the wife he loved. They were his priority. The president could wait.
Second, he knew the tendency of a leader’s staff to see the spouse as opposition. Because it is the spouse who is often pulling against the staff’s demand for time and distance, the spouse becomes an enemy and the spouse feels it. So, this leader involved his wife in all hiring. No one got hired without her approval, no one got promoted without her input. The staff got the message. The wife is your boss, too. Serve her well. Or, as he used to say, “we come as a set.”
Third, this powerful man prioritized time with his family. Whole weekends. Nights of the week. Specific weeks in the years. These times were marked on calendars and were inviolate. Phones weren’t answered during these hours. No exceptions. This man once turned down a ride back to Washington on Air Force One. Why? His daughter had a recital and he’d given his word. It was that simple.
Finally, this man and his wife did the little things together that became the stitching in a whole cloth of happiness and devotion. They danced a lot. They took time aside to sample good wines. They drove an RV all over the country, just the two of them. She gave input into his political life. He helped her think through her work with children. They made a life—together—despite the hours of separation.
So these were his main strategies. What are yours? Find them, if you don’t have them already. You are a rising, busy leader—and you can lose the most important relationships in your life precisely because you are a rising, busy leader. So get intentional, get strategic, and get practical. And may you have many years of fiery love as a result.