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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Wife is the Key

by Bitner (bio)

Consider five of the most influential men in the world over the last 250 years. (The list is long, but let's consider five for the sake of argument.)

John Adams - a man of impeccable integrity, the foremost speaker of the Revolutionary era, successor to George Washington, and famous for his exchange of letters with both is wife, Abigail, and his rival-friend Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson - author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia statute of religious freedom, successor to John Adams, father of the University of Virginia and self-taught architect and tinkerer..oh and lover of French wine.

JP Morgan - one of the greatest financiers of all time, single-handedly saved the American economy multiple times in the late 1800s and early 1900s, credited for building the Museum of Modern Art via his personal collection and support.

Winston Churchill - world champion polo player, world-class artist, authored 10 million words, one of the greatest (and funniest) statesmen in world history for his career in Parliament generally and his leading role in navigating WWII specifically.

Jack Welch - a came-from-nothing success story who had a volcanic rise through a stodgy, bureaucratic corporation, eventually becoming Chairman & CEO (possibly the best ever), known for fierce competitiveness and differentiation of people.

That's an incredible list of men.

And those little blurbs hardly tell the whole story.

Sadly, for three of them, their ambition and 'calling' consumed them to the point that they failed at home. Miserably so.

Jefferson's wife died young, leaving him a widower who promised he wouldn't remarry. He eventually had multiple affairs, the most notable of which was with one of his slaves who bore him children. He also left his estate in a terrible financial state when he died.

Morgan's first wife died and he remarried. Morgan never divorced, but had multiple mistresses known of and hidden from his wife.

Welch left family responsibilities to his first wife whom he divorced during his tenure as CEO, marrying a young and spunky business lawyer, eventually divorcing her after an affair with the editor of Harvard Business Review, whom he soon married.

And then there were two.

Adams' loyalty and fidelity to his wife Abigail is unquestioned.

Churchill was equally faithful to his wife and family, never failing.

Why? How?

It can't be ambition. They're each ambitious!

Could it be related to religion? Adams and his wife were lifelong Bible readers and faithful worshippers, afterall. But Churchill was agnostic and had a wildly adulterous mother. Meanwhile Morgan was active in his church for his entire life - he could quote the Bible like a preacher. Welch grew up Catholic and had faithful parents. Jefferson was opposed to organized religion.

So devotion to religion was neither necessary nor sufficient for these men to maintain fidelity whilst reaching global success.

Here's where it gets... touchy.

Not knowing all the details - we never will - I think it can be said that the success or failure in the home of these men had as much to do with the wife as it did the husband. Adams & Churchill both had supportive wives who pushed them to greatness. They were partners in the epoch.

Jefferson lost his and (due to a promise) never had one again.

Morgan's first wife died of a freak illness on their honeymoon and he was never the same again. His second wife never wanted to leave the small town in support of Morgan's career.

From the limited information on Welch's personal life, it appears his first wife remained in the background while his second wife became his business companion...until she wasn't anymore.

One cannot remove man's agency and tragic actions in the failure of marriages/homes. And one cannot overstate the importance of the wife in man's excellence and his faithfulness.

[Incidentally, I have wondered: would Jefferson's and Morgan's behavior, respectively, been different if their first wives hadn't died so young?...if they would have remarried/remarried well?]

The takeaway, as I see it is twofold:

First, no MMM who aspires to professional excellence sets out with the goal of shattering his marriage and family; therefore, involve your wife, engage her in your decision making and thought processes. Partner with her.

Second, to the MMM's wife: realize your greatness.

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