Legend has it that way back in third century Rome, Emperor Claudius II wished for a radical transformation of his army. While his soldiers were loyal and dedicated, he believed that they could give more. He wanted the success of the military to be each soldier's only meaningful purpose in life. Such men were hard to find; although many were passionate and had risked their lives for the Empire, the soldiers had their loved ones and family life outside of the army. The Emperor saw this as a weakness and a distraction, so he took the bold and ruthless step - and forbade marriage altogether.
The legend tells of a priest by the name of Valentine who was so outraged at the Emperor’s ‘war on love’ that he defied the decree and started to arrange for young lovers to marry in secret ceremonies. The Emperor soon discovered Valentine’s betrayal and had him executed, inadvertently turning him into a martyr for love itself.
This cautionary tale of Claudius and Valentine puts ‘love’ and ‘work’ seemingly as opposites that can never be reconciled. The truth, however, is that life is multi-dimensional and interdependent - that wholesome personal and romantic relationships create superior soldiers, leaders, and entrepreneurs. The professional success of an individual is often rooted deeply in the couple itself, as, behind the scenes, the spouse is the confidante, the nurturer, the therapist, the biggest critic, the undying fan, and the life coach, all bundled into one.
Behind Every Successful Entrepreneur
We have all heard stories of the entrepreneur who came from humble beginnings and became immensely successful. The term ‘self-made’ is used rather liberally in these instances, but is never a holistic depiction of the journey. Nobody does it alone. Great entrepreneurs are only as strong as the team that they build, both at home and at work – a team that works seamlessly together, keeping the cogs of business and personal life moving smoothly and efficiently. Moreover, behind many successful entrepreneurs is a lover who reinforces them behind closed doors by offering them a shoulder to cry on in hard times.
Entrepreneurial life is pock marked with moments of doubt, uncertainty, and worry. Is pivoting the correct strategy? Will we demonstrate enough growth to get our next round of funding? Have I hired the right person as CFO or COO? Difficult decisions come with difficult consequences, making life at the top both stressful and lonely. Every step of the way, the leader’s emotional mettle is put to the challenge. One day, the company is about to turn the corner, and the next day, it’s down in the dumps again – this bipolar existence is far more manageable with a stable life partner by one’s side.
The Makings Of Greatness
Sometimes, sadly, the spouse plays a key role in the making of a great leader, but the intensity of the journey takes its toll. Warren Buffett calls the neglect of ‘non-money’ things the biggest regret of his life. His marriage to Susie Buffett ended in separation in 1977. "[Her departure] was preventable. It was 95% my fault, Buffett said. ‘I just wasn't attuned enough to her, and she'd always been perfectly attuned to me. She kept me together for a lot of years... it shouldn't have happened."
Susie Buffett, by providing support in Warren’s home life, was instrumental in keeping him balanced, grounded, mentally fit, and healthy – and in many ways, deserves more credit than she’s given for delivering to the world the greatest investor of our times.
Some types of couples – the ‘power couple’ – feed off one another and harness more attention, publicity and relevance as a unit than they would apart. If your spouse is a high-achiever, the odds are that you are no slouch yourself. History is peppered with examples. Think Beyonce and Jay-Z, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Pierre and Marie Curie, and the Chinese power couple Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan.
Peng Liyuan is an accomplished folk and opera singer and was recently ranked by Forbes as the 57th most powerful woman in the world. The Chinese president and his wife are playful when discussing each other in public. She once joked: "Who is Xi Jinping? He is Peng Liyuan's husband." There is truth in her jest and a genuine air of competition between the spouses. Competition drives them on both as a power couple and as highly successful individuals. More important than the healthy competition, however, is the mutual nurturing that upholds the power in the duo.
When Emperor Claudius II banned marriage, he missed a major trick; he was a skilled man of war, but he lacked balance. His downfall was in failing to recognise the importance of love. It is the love and compassion in our personal relationships that underpin the resilience of a leader. Love heals and rejuvenates when seemingly endless business battles diminish and debilitate. Stable, loving relationships are the foundation stones for great leaders, endowing in them patience, temperament, and the mental calmness and agility needed to excel in the daily battlefield of business.
But as any military strategist would attest, long-term success is not just about winning the battle, it’s about winning the war. In the long and arduous ‘war of business’, the greatest weapon of all is perhaps love itself, teaching us the soft skills and emotional intelligence that are essential to rising to and staying at the top. As paradoxical as it may sound, and contrary to conventional wisdom, love and business actually go hand in hand. For the one-dimensional go-getters reading this, perhaps it's time to order those Valentine’s Day flowers.