Update: Family strategy

On January 14th, I wrote a post about leading the “Most important organization in the world,” about leading a family.  At that time, I shared that my wife, Sheryl, and I put together our own family strategy that I would share at a later date.

Well, that later date has arrived with an extra twist! Sheryl and I had our first family strategy centered around preparing to become a family of 3. Our son Aaron was born a healthy 7lbs 5oz on April 13th, bringing us incredible joy during a time of incredible uncertainty. Aaron’s arrival and impact on our family has been immediate, and caring for him has been a welcome distraction.

Before we knew much about the novel coronavirus, Sheryl and I had a dinner date night and put together our family strategy, including our “rallying cry,” “defining objectives,” and “standard objectives.” Our strategy describes how our family is different. Our “rallying cry” is a short term focus, while the “defining objectives” are the steps to achieve the “rallying cry”. Finally, “standard objectives” are lasting areas of importance that our family has determined to be pillars of importance.

So here was our completed strategy board leading up to Aaron’s arrival (he was affectionately known as “Gummy Bear” before his arrival):

20200412_134735950_iOS

For us, our family strategy is defined at the bottom of our board, which lives on display in our living room (it’s been a hit at dinner parties!). Our strategy is, “We are a family that is driven and goal oriented. We grow and change while always prioritizing faith, family, friends, and compassionate active listening. We are genuinely curious about our world and contributing to make it a better place.”

Our rallying cry, “Prepare for Gummy Bear” included the defining objectives of preparing his room and play room, getting stuff for him (like a car seat and stroller), taking the parenting classes, figuring out daycare, selecting a pediatrician, and establishing a birth plan.

Our standard objectives, which remain are managing financial health, physical health, spiritual health, the quality of our marriage, pursuing education, socializing, and fun.

Every week, Sheryl and I meet for about 5 minutes to assign tracking to each of the objectives. Red dots mean not accomplished this week, yellow means in progress, and green means complete. During the COVID-19 pandemic, achieving green status for the the social life standard objective has been especially hard due to social distancing.

Sheryl and I were both excited to create and deploy our family strategy. Having witnessed a couple of frantic family dynamics, it was our goal to get ahead of it and Lencioni’s model fell into our laps coincidentally. However, investing the time in developing a strategy and meeting about it weekly has been highly valuable for us. I find that the activity keeps us focused and grounded at home, just as work plans do for me professionally.

I really cannot recommend the activities of developing and tracking a family strategy highly enough. It helped us immensely, even in this time of social distancing, to prepare as first time parents bringing a newborn home with no physical help. Without it, it likely would have been a much harder road for us. Contrary to what we though, the first 3 weeks of Aaron’s life have been pure joy, with some sleepless nights thrown in.

You have the time right now during social distancing to create a family strategy. Everyone is home and looking for something to do. Go ahead and try it. Use The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family to get started. All the whiteboard materials are an easy order from Amazon. Happy strategizing!

As always, if you have any questions, please contact me.

Key Takeaway: Creating a plan and keeping it top of mind is the pathway for success in both business and with our families. Now is a perfect time to develop a family strategy and then to implement the objectives required to meet your goals.

Transformational leadership and Starbucks

Over the next few weeks, I am going to be writing a series on transformational leadership. In my next post, I will define the concept as well as an alternate style called transactional leadership. To kick off the series, I wanted to illustrate the hallmarks of transformational leadership through the story of one of my favorite transformational leaders: Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks.

Embed from Getty Images

Howard Schultz is a transformational leader because of the way he developed a vision and then made it into a reality in partnership with Starbucks’ other employees. His vision was for Starbucks to be a “third place” between home and work and that Americans would pay $3-5 for a cup of coffee. Schultz used his charismatic personality and values to develop a transformational work environment at Starbucks that built a coffee empire. He uses motivation, influence and referent power to overcome business obstacles and achieve shared success.

Evidence of Howard Schultz transformational leadership qualities are a key component of the Starbucks operation. In the most obvious example, Starbucks refers to all its employees as, “partners” and offers them stock options and health care benefits (for both full and part-time employees) . He writes, “From the beginning of my management of Starbucks, I wanted it to be the employer of choice, the company everybody wanted to work for.” Schultz realized that leadership was about the people at the front lines doing the work to bring his vision to reality. He focused on the employees and used his strong motivation and influence skills to achieve his vision.

Schultz has also demonstrated the ability to motivate his employees both in terms of direction and emotional intelligence. On the first day Starbucks was in business, Schultz went to address the other Starbucks partners. He had three points written down on a 5-by-7 note card that read, “1. Speak from my heart. 2. Put myself in their shoes and 3. Share the Big Dream with them.”

When the response to Schultz’s first speech was a combination of skepticism and guarded optimism, he recognized what he needed to do. Schultz knew he had to develop referent, expert and position power in addition to his legitimate power role as the CEO of Starbucks. He used the tactics of shared benefits, consultation and collaboration, emotional calibration and consistency to motivate his new employees. He writes, “The only way to win the confidence of Starbucks’ employees was to be honest with them, to share my plans and excitement with them and then follow through and keep my word, delivering exactly what I promised – if not more.”

Schultz focused on outcomes, satisfaction and trust to build employee commitment to Starbucks, which minimized turnover and retained employees who were aligned to the vision and brand for Starbucks. He writes, “A business plan is only a piece of paper, and even implemented properly [is not complete] unless the people are committed to it with the same heartfelt urgency as their leader.” When Starbucks lost its way, in Schultz’s eyes, he closed all Starbucks locations temporarily for mandatory training, including lessons on how to make the perfect espresso shots.

Schultz has impacted not only the Starbucks partners who have grown and thrived with the company, but also the patrons of Starbucks. In his book Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing its Soul, Schultz describes the reactions of patrons when they learn that their neighborhood Starbucks was closing due to the suffering performance of the company, when, at one point, it was nearly at the brink of bankruptcy. They felt the loss on a deep emotional level because of what the store meant to the community. Schultz describes stories where people reacted emotionally to the announcement that the store they frequent was closing. One woman in Minnesota wrote, “I can’t believe that ‘my’ Starbucks is closing. You never know how important a place is until you are about to lose it.”

The impact of the Starbucks that Schultz created has also impacted me personally. In fact, I have written portions of this post from a Starbucks. It is incredible to me to witness what Schultz visioned coming to life in front of me. I was recently in one of the first Starbucks locations on the East Coast in Friendship Heights. The layout, the service, and the atmosphere was exactly how Schultz would have described it to a potential investor, partner or customer. There was a romance to the coffee service, and sitting there doing work at a table and drinking from my own personalized cup of coffee was surely a small but meaningful luxury. Knowing how much work it took Schultz to achieve that vision, including overcoming many skeptics and frequent trips to Italy, made the taste of my peppermint mocha even sweeter.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Transformational leaders pursue an important vision by empowering people to be a part of something larger than themselves. Leaders like Howard Schultz lead through respect and empowerment.

The most important organization in the world

Welcome back to Leadership as a Practice. We took a brief hiatus for the holidays but are back with more exciting content for you to enhance your own leadership practice.

Part of the reason for the break is that my wife and I are expecting our first child this Spring and we had some planning to take care of. As our family grows, we did some deep thinking about what it means to become a family with a child.

Coincidentally, I have been listening to a new podcast called At the Table with Patrick Lencioni, and a recent episode was about how to create a strategy for the family, or as Lencioni describes it, the most important organization in the world. My wife listened to the podcast as well and we both decided to try creating a family strategy with core values, defining objectives, standard objectives, and a regular cadence of checking in on progress.

Lencioni3Together, we read Lencioni’s book, The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family, which describes the process families can use to develop their strategic plan. This past Saturday night, we went out to dinner with the book, a legal pad, and pen and mapped out our strategy. The book describes that this process should be fast and we found that to be true. With the prompts and descriptions from the book, we spent about 20 minutes discussing the strategy and 10 minutes refining it. After reading our strategy over several times, we felt comfortable with the product.

From there, Lencioni prescribes developing a “rallying cry” or your family’s short term goal (2-6 months). I have also heard this idea called the “burning platform” in business discussions. The “rallying cry” will be reached by accomplishing “defining objectives”. From there, you define “standard objectives” or the themes that are always important to the family (ex: Physical health). After all of that work, the family meets weekly for 10 minutes to do a stoplight score (green for on schedule, yellow for close, and red for off schedule), which helps prioritize goals for the upcoming week.

My wife and I have our first check-in meeting this week, so we decided that we wouldn’t share our strategy with Leadership as a Practice readers until later (but stay tuned).

At work, I’m a big advocate of the value of strategic planning as well as disciplined and intentional implementation of the plan. Applying it to our family was something that occurred to me but I couldn’t figure out how to implement it. Lencioni’s model has helped my family get focused and organized. Our strategy has already helped us make decisions that are aligned. It also serves as an excellent model for a quick strategic plan for a functional department at any business.

Do you lead with intention both at home and at work? If you have any stories about this topic, I would love to hear them. Please send them to me here.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Strategic planning is a valuable exercise to accomplish both professional and personal goals. Leaders can establish a plan quickly and implement it. What better place to start than at home?


The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family is available for purchase on Amazon for $24.95 (does not include Prime discount)

Is it better to be a generalist or a specialist?

I always enjoy books that challenge conventional thinking. I find it always important to question and wrestle with the way I typically approach problems or other situations. For that reason, I highly recommend reading the book Range by David Epstein.

Epstein takes on the fundamental assumption that going deeper (specialization) is better for problem solving in our increasingly complex world than it is to have many diverse experiences (generalization). According to Epstein, generalists are in the best position to solve problems and innovate in an increasingly complex environment.

He writes that human’s unique strength is in the ability to think broadly, which is a capability that is uniquely human and difficult to teach a machine or algorithm to do effectively. He cites numerous examples from sports to medicine to space travel where the specialists got it wrong and a more general view would have been more beneficial.

There are many implications to leadership in business in the research Epstein compiles in Range.

One lesson is about over-reliance on data, which Epstein illustrates using the Challenger explosion as an example. At the Johnson Space Center a plaque in the mission control room read, “In God We Trust—All Others Bring Data.” Epstein explains how NASA’s culture made it rely on quantitative analysis too much, which he argues helped to bring on the decision to launch the Challenger when the O-rings were vulnerable to failure.

I highly recommend the book and believe that all leaders can benefit from its lessons. Next week I will write about some of the implications of Range’s findings to organizational development.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Generalized knowledge may be advantageous for leaders to develop new ways to solve long standing problems.


Range is available for purchase on Amazon for $28.00 (does not include Prime discount).

One year of blogging – what I’ve learned

Today’s post marks 1 year into my time as a blogger. I thought I’d take this opportunity to share what I’ve learned for my post this week as well as what I’ve found to be the most valuable parts of maintaining a site like this one. I’ve learned a lot so far and have a few people to thank as well.

Today’s post is my 57th on this site, which I launched on September 13, 2018. The site has had 2,288 unique viewers and 4,356 views since the launch. The majority of views come from the United States, followed by Canada, Israel and India. The response is more than I could have hoped for and I so appreciate the readers who have checked out my writing so far. Thank you!

Readers looked the most at my post on the book Trillion Dollar Coach which I reviewed on the day it came out. One of the best things I have gotten to experience as a blogger is receiving early releases of some great books that I get to review. Thank you to Harper Collins and Penguin Random House for the advanced copies.

black calendar close up composition

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve wanted to write this blog for a while and this year finally started. My big fear was that it would be hard for me to keep up writing weekly. So my first 25 blog post were already written before I launched the site. That was a great way to allow a safe launch. Finding time to write the posts has been challenging, at times, but just sitting down and putting pen to paper helps my productivity and gives me a chance to think some things through, even if I don’t publish them. Writing here also challenges me to always be thinking. Occasionally in meetings, I’ll pull out my phone and start a draft of an idea for a good post.

The best part of writing publicly are the chances when people get in touch to engage on the topic. I enjoy hearing people’s thoughts on what I write and learning about their interpretations. My favorite thing is when people tell me that they use the tools or concepts I write about with their teams.

I think writing is an extremely important medium for communication and sharing ideas. If you are thinking about starting a blog, stop thinking and start doing. My biggest regret about the blog so far is that I didn’t start sooner.

I have found that the biggest challenge in maintaining this blog is staying disciplined to the three topic areas: Leadership, innovation, and the way we treat each other. As you have seen from my previous writings about Presidential libraries, I believe politics teaches us many lessons about leadership, both positive and negative. I have decided to avoid that topic because I don’t want to lose the important focus of this blog, but I have been very tempted at times to deviate.

I have also avoided personal things that I’d love to write about, like my current feelings about the Washington football franchise or about the nuances of Davey Martinez’s (who is recovering from a heart procedure and I wish him well) management of the Nationals bullpen. My plan is to stick to the topics for the foreseeable future and resist temptation.

Thanks to the stats on WordPress, I’ve been studying how most of your find these blog posts. On social media, Facebook has been the most important publishing source, followed by LinkedIn, the WordPress Reader App, and Twitter. I was surprised by these results initially but it’s been very consistent. One of the next frontiers I want to explore is Search Engine Optimization.

About 65 of you are subscribed either via email or through the WordPress feed. My heart lights up every time the blog gets an additional subscriber, so thanks especially to you!

I wanted to give a special thanks to my most loyal readers, including all the subscribers (two shout-outs for you!). My parents read every week and their support means a lot to me. Isaac Snyder is a dear friend and a loyal reader, it’s meant a lot to me when he has suggested some additional topics to write about. My in-laws, Joel and Maureen, also read and comment weekly, which makes me smile every time we chat as well. Thanks to all my family, friends, colleagues, and new folks who have visited and read the content.

I also would not be successful without my “copy-editing team.” My wife Sheryl has been a great copy editor and overall support in everything, reading almost every post before it is published. My colleague Jennifer Harrison (who reminds me all the time that the period goes inside the quotation mark even though it is ugly) and my father have helped me clean up whatever we may have missed after publishing.

My goal is, with your support, to build on the first year and try to learn from the stats and write more about topics of interest. I hope to provide you with more to read, learn, and share in the coming year. Bottom line – thank you!

KEY TAKEAWAY: Blogging can be both exciting and challenging. If you are thinking about sharing your ideas through a blog, stop thinking and start writing. It is a great way to allocate time for personal thought and to spread ideas.