1-on-1: Patrick Lencioni on Helping Frantic Families

Business organization is Patrick Lencioni’s game. He is a well-respected leadership consultant and the president of the management consulting firm The Table Group Inc. He is the author of nine best-selling books, including Getting Naked, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. Lencioni is a popular keynote speaker and meets regularly with Fortune 500 CEOs and executives across the country. In addition, he is a husband and the father of four young boys. His life is busy; his family’s schedule is hectic. But by practicing the principles he teaches in his book The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family, he and his wife are able to create a life that is both productive and enjoyable. In this one-on-one interview, Lencioni shares how the same organizational strategies that make businesses more effective can help families go from frantic to focused.

SUCCESS: You’ve made a name for yourself by teaching business leaders how to create stronger teams and more effective organizations. When did you decide to take the principles you teach to businesses and try them at home?

Patrick Lencioni: Even though I wrote The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family, my life is as chaotic as most people’s. There is no typical day. I coach soccer, and my wife and I are very involved in our kids’ lives. Our family is busy with doctor appointments, soccer practice, school, work, travel, vacation… life.

I realized that our life was the furthest thing from sane, and I just wanted to introduce some sanity into our life. I know we only have our kids for a while. This time is going to be over soon, and I kept thinking that if we’re stuck in chaos, we can’t enjoy it; we’re going to miss out on this time.

Does your approach make family seem like business? Does it take the “life” out of family life?
PL: You don’t want to eliminate the fun. Life is full of surprises, new opportunities come up; that’s part of the fun—the adventure of life. The thing is, chaos doesn’t allow us to enjoy the adventure. This isn’t about being businesslike; it’s about living with purpose.

So how do we go from living in a state of chaos to living with purpose?
PL: The first and most important thing is to have a rally cry for your family. A rally cry is your family’s primary goal or top priority for the next one to six months. (Shorter than that is a fire drill and much longer than that is difficult to focus on.)

Stating a rally cry requires us to answer the question, What is the biggest thing we want to focus on right now? Too often we try to have 10 different projects at once and things suffer. So stop and think; is it a financial goal, getting a handle on discipline, dealing with aging parents? What is the No. 1 priority for your family right now? What is your family’s rally cry? Circle the wagons and focus in on that one thing. That’s how to create change.

The next step is to list four to five key things that need to happen to make your rally cry a real priority. As an example, this summer we moved to a new home and our kids started in new schools this fall. We specified that the Lencioni family rally cry was to transition to our new neighborhood. To support that priority, our key areas of focus included:

Cutting back on outside activities

Getting the kids ready for their new school

Making connections in the neighborhood

Solidifying existing relationships so we remain connected to friends from our old neighborhood

Making time for at least one family activity each week

When we have a rally cry and know what’s important to us, it’s easy to evaluate opportunities as they come up. We can then decide what activities are in alignment with our priorities and which ones aren’t that important to us at the moment.

Can a more practical goal be a rally cry?
PL: There are things I call ongoing life maintenance, and really, managing those things just gives you permission to play. They include daily responsibilities like your finances, health, education, marriage, and spiritual and social life. They’re always going to be important… you always have to do things to maintain these areas of life. But if those are the only things you do or focus on, you’re just surviving; that’s not thriving.

Should the whole family help create the rally cry?
PL: It starts with the parents determining the family’s rally cry and listing the key activities they need to start or stop doing. You can involve your kids as they get older, but parents are the leaders of the family… they need to be the ones making the decisions.

The initial process should only take 45 minutes to an hour. It’s something you write on a piece of paper or on the back of a placemat at the restaurant while you’re on a date. Then post it on the fridge.

Once a week, check back and evaluate where you are. It should take 10 to 15 minutes, tops. Put a green, yellow or red mark by each of the four to five key categories to indicate how you did that week. Then, make a plan for how you’ll make progress during the following week.

Can something so simple really make a difference?
PL: I’ve learned that if we’re going to make changes, the plan cannot be time intensive or overly structured. I purposefully kept it simple. If I’ve learned anything since writing the book it’s that the plan could be even simpler. Trying to design the perfect plan is the perfect recipe for disappointment.

In business you hear about the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of the benefit comes from 20 percent of the change. At home I think it’s the 90/10 rule: 90 percent of the value is brought on by just a 10 percent change.

The keys are to be purposeful and to keep it simple. Stop worrying about all the other things and focus on the key priority—your rally cry.

For more tips from Patrick Lencione, check out his web exclusive.

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