Lead – Listen – Recalculate

I recall a few years ago enjoying a cartoon in which a car was sitting at the bottom of a pond, from which emerged a GPS voice, “Recalculating.”

A few years ago a client approached me with an unusual ‘problem’. A young woman had made it known to him she had new DNA information he was her biological father. She had since met my client’s wife and grown children, and they had begun the process of integrating a new family member. But then there was a silence, when he didn’t hear from her, and our session at this time was how to deal with that.

Now my client, having a trained engineer’s mind, had two well-developed options. 1) – to do nothing and wait for a signal from his ‘new’ daughter, or 2) – to face the issue head-on and approach her directly.

He already knew from his therapy that for a man, the ‘do nothing’ approach was not usually his wisest choice. But he was afraid a ‘direct’ approach might scare her off, and he didn’t know her well enough to gauge her inner emotional structure. But also, he really wanted the relationship with this new ‘daughter-come-lately’ to work, for himself and his family.

So here is how our session progressed. I assumed she, though relatively young, had experience with ‘do-nothing’ (passive) men, so I ruled that out for him.

To Lead

Though he was uncomfortable with ‘leading’ I suggested that in many ways “to be a man with a woman” means to be willing to Lead. However to lead alone, can easily become ‘controlling’ – and he was aware enough to want to avoid that.

To Listen

The secret to Leading is that it immediately be followed by Listening.

Many men are not good at listening to women. I myself been listening to women professionally for about 45 years now, and continually find how much I have to learn from them. (And I carry a sizable internal catalog of many mistakes I’ve made both professionally and personally over the years.)

I’ve observed that men and women seem to have a different ‘natural language’ – a deep primary form of thinking, listening and speaking. Men are primarily good at getting things done. And they have a ‘natural language’ to accomplish that. Women’s ‘natural language’ is more adept at communicating relationship. A man who can understand that difference may save himself thousands of dollars in therapy, if not the high legal cost of a divorce.[1] Let alone the reward of a happier life.[2]

To Recalculate (be willing to change)

The third element in the formula for my client – “to be a man with a woman” – as a mark of true Listening, is to be willing to change his Leading. I call this “Recalculating” in honor of my GPS experiences, and that delightful cartoon I mentioned above in my heading. When it doesn’t work, be willing to change.

The Larger Picture

It’s a constant cycling of action, listening, and reevaluation.

I write and publish this Newsletter with an awareness I may be wrong in many situations. (call it GPS wisdom, or ‘humility’, or ‘listening to the women’).[3]

A major characteristic of good Leadership is not just to ‘lead’ by always being right, but to build trust, safety, and community. To take what’s given to us and build a better world (like my client with his incipient daughter).

Pay Attention (the future of our planet is depending on it.)


[1] I recall a learning from my acquaintance with Native American culture (in this case the Ojibwa). In their tribal heritage, it’s the men who meet in council to make (wrestle out) decisions. But before a decision can be operative (official), it must be ratified by the women of the tribe. There’s much wisdom in that ‘natural’ balancing of authority.

[2] My model here may not be adept at explaining and defusing deeply angry women or men. Specifically it’s not developed to deal with angry and/or betrayed male-invalidating women, and vice versa. That’s still a ‘work in progress’ for me – I’ve not yet found such a simple code to disentangle that Gordian Knot.

[3] I’m also fascinated by biblical accounts of the God of the Old Testament, where “…and the Lord repented of his anger…” Anger isn’t necessarily bad, as long as we don’t get stuck there. Repentance and reformulation are both divine and masculine distinguishing features.

Afterword (a couple personal examples)

It wasn’t that many years ago that I made a small tactical shift in my personal relationship with women. It had to do with making (or suggesting) plans to dine out. Usually I would ask “where would you like to go?” – having always assumed that giving her the opportunity to choose was a form of masculine courtesy. But what I hadn’t realized was that it was also a subtle way of passing the responsibility (work) of ‘leading’ on to her. Women often like it when a man leads, as long he invites her into the process by listening.

Now if my suggestion of a dining place doesn’t resonate with her, my next temptation then is to ask what she’d like instead. No, Bill, don’t do that!! I’ll continue to Lead by having another suggestion. If she has some input, she’ll offer it herself (as long as she feels safe).

Another example comes to mind. When I was in elementary school, my father, the Methodist preacher, tried something with our family which the Church was currently pushing – called something like Saturday Evening Family Prayers. My father quickly realized (by listening/observing) that it just didn’t work with us – and he quickly gave up the idea. I specifically remember feeling how much I appreciated him for that.