I am about to tell you something about your spouse that your spouse is afraid to tell you. As a matter of fact she might not even realize it herself.
I am going to reveal the truth about the executive spouse.
The term ‘executive spouse’ (my mother was one) refers to the person who is on the receiving end of the freedom your salary provides. Most articles about executive spouses describe spouses as trusted advisors, the person who listens at the end of the day or at after your return home from a trip. But there is a dark side that no one talks about.
What is an executive spouse?
For an executive the benefits of having a spouse are very clear.
You want the love of your life by your side, who doesn’t?
In addition, social scientists appear to be united about the strong correlation between marriage and higher net worth, according to a New York Times article, dated Feb 6, 2015. “It’s a plain fact that people who are married have more income, wealth and savings that last into their retirement,” said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.
You can share the burden of running a household, especially, if there are children. I only know of one senior leader who has chosen to not have a ‘home’ by setting up shop in various hotel suites around the world. And even Nicolas Berggruen ended his ‘homeless billionaire’ status in 2014.
Social functions are easier to manage with a spouse rather than having to bring an escort or showing up alone. Let’s face it, showing up alone, opens up a whole other can of worms.
Last but not least, look at the statistics cited in this article of Business News Daily: “For many CEOs and business owners, their wives and husbands are the first people they turn to for advice when making major decisions, according to a new study from the staffing firm Adecco. Specifically, nearly 40 percent of CEOs and business owners said the opinions of their spouse matter most to them when making big business decisions.”
Enough said. There are many advantages to having a wife or husband when you are CEO of a company.
The dark side of the executive spouse
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the drawbacks as well.
I just got off the phone with a senior executive client who is working for a large multinational corporation. He travels frequently and works long hours. He is passionate about his work and a dedicated and loving husband and father.
He told me how he came up with this brilliant idea last week, and I do agree it is a brilliant idea, that will change the entire industry he is working in. Full of excitement he came home and told his wife. Guess how she responded to the news?
“See you in 30 years, honey!”
All he could think was: ‘Don’t say that…!’
It didn’t stop him in his tracks, but it certainly slowed him down. Some of his enthusiasm vanished. And maybe rightfully so. A marriage is a partnership in which you share responsibilities as well as a life.
This is not the first time I have heard this kind of comment. Senior executives trust their spouses and want them to share in their excitement and help them sort out difficult decisions. However, spouses have an agenda that is often overlooked. I don’t mean this maliciously, just matter-of-factly.
1. Know Your Spouse Will Have an Agenda
When your company requires you to move to China, or London, or Santiago, your wife is not necessarily as excited as you are. There are different responsibilities at play and different desires. Where will the kids go to school? Who will take care of the aging parent? The fear of the unknown might creep in. Having an agenda is not necessarily a bad thing. However, being aware of the different attachments will reduce the risk for all involved.
2. Seek Different Perspectives
When difficult decisions need to be made, I want to encourage you to seek out different perspectives from different sources. Different perspectives will shed new light on the scenario. You will be able to assess more clearly who is concerned, aka afraid of what?
3. Minimize Risk
Is it time to identify your personal advisory committee?
As senior leader you are in the business of making decisions. Making decisions takes energy and relevant information, experience and an accurate assessment of risk. How can you minimize risk? In my experience senior leaders need to assemble a team of people they can reach out to for relevant input. We tend to have these teams in place in the work environment. But how about for life altering decisions, who will help us there? Examples of who I have seen on senior leaders advisory committees are independent financial advisors (not stock brokers), attorneys (especially estate attorneys), executive coaches (hired through the corporation, or ideally independent), health experts ranging from physicians to personal trainers, nutritionists to physical therapists, mentors and family members.
4. Hire a Coach
Coaches are bound by confidentiality agreements and can be more objective than anyone else in your life. They offer you an opportunity to speak out loud about the options you are weighing, which means you get to think it through without wandering off topic. Talking it through is different than thinking it through. They can hold you accountable to being aligned with your values and your dreams and keep you focused on your goals. They can act as a great sounding board for what you can’t discuss with anyone else.
Do you want an outside perspective? Email me to book your strategy session.