Is Your Family Too Frantic?

Leadership expert Patrick Lencioni applies principles of running a great company to a great family.
November 20, 2012

Complaining about the crazy lives we lead is something of a rite of passage in our culture. Reactive, scattered, frantic, chaotic, stressed—these are all adjectives you might hear people use to describe their home life. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Patrick Lencioni, author of The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family (Publisher: Jossey-Bass, 2008), isn’t a family expert. But one day it dawned on him that the same leadership principles he teaches clients also apply to his family.

Stress and rates of depression, substance abuse and psychological disorders are rising dramatically. And this is especially true among middle- and upper-class families who are overwhelmed by the unfocused day-to-day lives they lead. Society is facing a serious epidemic of chaos in families, the cost of which is both real and painful.

“Life should be busy and demanding at times, but it should also be lived with a sense of purpose and sanity that allows us to be the people we’re meant to be,” Lencioni says. “I don’t think anyone is meant to be perpetually tired and stressed.”

Here are three things to consider when running your hectic family.

1. What values are most important to your family?

Is philanthropy a shared value? Being healthy and active? Continued learning? Family bonding? If you have a hard time thinking what your family’s values are, think about the individual members. The values you share with your spouse, for example, can be the same core values for your family.

For example, Lencioni asked a couple to think back to when they first met and describe what qualities they appreciated most in each other. Standing up for what you believe in is something the husband found desirable in his future wife, because he shared that same principle. Later when they started a family, standing up for what you believe in became a family value. So when a family member was faced with a decision, he or she consulted their family values for guidance on how to proceed. Values give context for your decisions.

2. What is your family’s top priority or shared goal?

Families function most productively when they have a common goal to achieve. Both short-term goals like taking a summer vacation or long-term goals like improving family communications help bring a family together. It gives them a rally cry to understand why “we’re all in this together,” Lencioni says.

So when a family decides to cook at home instead of dining out to save money, they are achieving an objective that leads to their common goal of taking a family vacation. When everyone makes small decisions that align with a bigger objective, they share a common vision for the future.

3. How will you keep family values and shared goals top of mind for your family?

The best-laid plans are worthless if they’re not executed. So review your family’s values and goals often and assess whether you’re making progress. Family meetings, open discussions and visual reminders are all ways to keep your family on the same page.

“Ensure your family has greater, more holistic context for the daily decisions you make about scheduling and activities,” Lencioni says. “Ultimately, those decisions are what make our lives frantic.” 

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