[May 12, 2015] Being a senior leader comes with many challenges that require a good intellect, mental resilience, and character … just to name a few. One thing that is rarely discussed however is the affect of a spouse on that leader or their career. It is presumed in the traditional sense that all leader spouses do are entertain and be sociable; in other words not get in the way of the leader’s career. This is changing.
Leader spouses can be helpful, harmful, or just be in the background and of a leader; each with varying degrees of impact on a leader’s career. The absence of a spouse can also affect a leader; a significant other, divorce, legal or de facto separation, widowhood, or never married. What about the gay spouse? What about the spouse who holds a politically sensitive position? What about a spouse that is hated in their community but has input to the leaders’ profession?
There are so many permutations of risk which explain why spouses are often asked to be as neutral to the leader as possible; out of fear they will bring harm. Whether this is the best possible scenario has been taken as faith and practiced dutifully by leaders and their spouses over the past century. A new role for spouses is beginning to appear on the professional horizon that deserves a look.
I would like to suggest that, in the United States and perhaps other select areas, spouses are beginning to have a bigger say into the professional playing field of their husband/wife as a leader. I’m not suggesting something small but there is a trend developing that has a very clear place for a spouse beyond the socialite. That place is to be an ideological partner and advocate companion.
Take for example, current U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama. Whether we like her or find her distasteful, she is leading the effort to help her husband U.S. President Barak Obama and to forge a way ahead for Blacks in America. Recently she has made a number of public remarks about the bane of being Black in America.1 Another good example is that of past-U.S. President Bill Clinton … as his wife Hillary runs for public office. Will controversial and public comments by him help or harm his wife’s run for the presidency?2
Whether we hold to the tried-and-true method of leaving our spouse in the background or advocate for a more active role, expect to see a greater and more robust involvement of leader spouses. There are many who believe the overall affect will be one that is an advantage to their husband/wife. How that works out for Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton is yet too early to tell.
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