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):

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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.

Building teamwork and strategy

I see what you are doing Patrick Lencioni…

I’ve gotten hooked on your podcast and now I am reading all of your books.

Well played, Pat. Well played.

This post is all about Lencioni’s book, The Advantage, which is a clear, concise, and easy read all about how teamwork, strategy, and communication come together to help organizations achieve strategic goals.

The Advantage is the only Lencioni book that I’ve encountered that is not told as a fable with an explanation at the end. The author gets right into the content describing four disciplines that achieve organizational health. They are:

  1. Build a cohesive leadership team
  2. Create clarity
  3. Over-communicate clarity
  4. Reinforce clarity

The Advantage Model and Summary

For lessons on building a cohesive leadership team, they mirror Lencioni’s model in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The create clarity section uses the model Lencioni describes in Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars with a few added tips. The new learning for me came in the “over-communicate clarity” and “reinforce clarity” sections of the book, particularly in the practical advice about meetings.

I spend the majority of my time in meetings at work. In a complex organization with many different functions, it is hard to avoid meetings and, in all honesty, it’s a necessity to operate a large organizations. Still, meetings can be productive with the right intention and format.

Lencioni describes a model involving four kinds of meetings in The Advantage and even describes how much time a leader invests in meetings using his model and the potential benefits.

Using the model assures regular and clear communication with the team on as frequent as a daily basis. In my experience, I have learned that Lencioni’s emphasis on over-communicating is right on. In the midst of a task heavy day, most people need the friendly reminder to align those tasks to strategy and operations. That is why great organizations (particularly service organizations like the Ritz-Carlton) that I have observed and admired have mechanisms to repeat key themes on a daily basis.

I recommend that any leader who is either in a new leadership role or is looking for a change of pace with their current team read The Advantage. Also, subscribe to the At the Table podcast, knowing that it will be supplemented with an investment in materials!

KEY TAKEAWAY: Leniconi’s model described in The Advantage is a must-use for teams looking to achieve strategic goals. By focusing on the four disciplines of healthy organizations, leaders can set an important tone in how a team works together, sets its strategy, and keeps that plan top of mind.


The Advantage is available for purchase on Amazon for $27.95 (does not include Prime discount)

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)

Lessons from the World Series Champion Washington Nationals

On Wednesday night, the Washington Nationals beat the Houston Astros to win the World Series. It marks Washington, DC’s first world championship in baseball since 1924, which was 2 franchises ago. Baseball is special and as a huge fan of the Nationals since they came to Washington in 2005, seeing the team win the World Series brought me more joy than I can really put into words.

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So while I process the emotional significance of the win, this Nationals team provides incredible lessons in leadership, resilience, and the value of culture that is worth exploring.

The season began with the Nationals losing arguably a once-in-a-generation talent, Bryce Harper, to the division rival Philadelphia Phillies. In one of the first games of the season, the team’s leadoff hitter, Trea Tuner, broke his finger trying to execute a simple bunt. Turner was the first in a long line of injuries to starting players.

The Nationals relief pitching was laughably bad, including one player, Trevor Rosenthal, who did not record an out through the first several weeks of the season. The team, who had the third highest payroll in baseball, was a dismal 19-31, 50 games into the season. The media was calling for the manager, Davey Martinez, to be fired and suggesting the Nationals trade away their best players to prepare to rebuild for the 2020 season. During one press conference, Martinez was heard muttering under his breath, “Just wait until we get healthy.”

According to the statistics, when the Nationals were 19-31, they had a 3% chance of making the playoffs and a 0.1% chance of winning the National League championship.

What happened next nobody could have predicted, including yours truly. At the time, I was a proud member of the #fireDavey campaign, and boy was I wrong.

On May 10th, the Nationals signed a veteran outfielder named Gerardo Parra to a one-year deal. Parra’s best years were arguably behind him and he was on his second team in 2019 and in a hitting slump to boot. To break the slump and appease his young children, he changed the music that the home stadium played when he came to bat to the catchy children’s song, “Baby Shark”. Soon, it became a sensation in Washington both among the team and its fans.

But that wasn’t all that Parra brought. He brought fun to the Nationals dugout, which ignited over a dozen rituals and traditions that helped the team bond. From donning rose-colored glasses, to a ritual of the player who just hit a home run dancing in the dugout, to bear-hugging the introverted, shy and now World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg.

Manager Davey Martinez challenged the team to just go 1-0 every day. He coined the mantra, “Stay in the fight” as the team’s rallying cry.

By now, you can probably guess the rest of the story. The Nationals went on a historic run, finishing the regular season 74-38 and making the 1-game, winner take-all, Wild Card against the Milwaukee Brewers. Down late in the game and facing the best closing pitcher in baseball, the Nationals came back and won. They then came from behind to beat the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers, swept the St. Louis Cardinals, and finally won the World Series in historic fashion against the powerhouse, best record in baseball, 107-win Houston Astros. They did all of this with the oldest team in baseball and the worst relief pitching in the National League.

There are several important leadership lessons in this story. I will touch on just a few of them:

Leadership can come from anywhere – One of the major criticisms of the Nationals carrying over from last season were that the team lacked leadership from its veteran players. Many pointed to the departure of long-time National Jayson Werth as hurting the morale in the clubhouse. It took Parra, a brand new member of the team to help the team play loose and have fun. He was not the team’s manager, best player, or really even one of their good players. He just led from his place in the clubhouse and it made a huge difference.

Never underestimate the value of a rallying-cry – Martinez consistently said, “Stay in the fight” and “Go 1-0”. The sayings united both the players and the fans in understanding the singular focus required to win a championship. If the team knew nothing else, it knew its job was to remain resilient and stay focused on the game today. Providing clarity and focus are some of the main responsibilities of leaders and a rallying-cry is a great way to target everyone’s energy.

Rituals that work help teams come together – The rituals the Nationals used were exciting and organic. Early in the year, the Nationals had a tradition of smashing a cabbage after a big win (I don’t know if it continued). In previous years, they used chocolate syrup to celebrate.

Baby shark, dugout celebrations, and Brian Dozier dancing shirtless to the song “Calma” took rituals to a whole new level. Rituals bond teams together. I am sure there is a scientific reason why that happens in terms of belonging, but I’ll save it for a future post. Regardless, this Nationals team would provide all the evidence needed to make the argument for the value of rituals to a team. I counted a dozen different rituals the Nationals adopted in their historic run and I am sure there are private ones that only the players will ever know about. To me, it looked like those rituals were some of the things that helped the team “Stay in the fight” and keep their optimism even when they had to play from behind, which they had do virtually all year.

The World Champion Nationals are a special group and have taught me a lot about how to never give up. While this team has left me with so much to celebrate, I also greatly appreciate the valuable lessons in leadership we can learn from them as well.

The biggest highlight of the season for me was attending a World Series game with my wife, my father, and my father-in-law. Every year that Nationals made the playoffs, I always secured a ticket to what would be the first World Series game in Washington in 86 years. A “bucket-list” event, I will always have those memories and it was one of the best experiences of my life.

GO NATS!

KEY TAKEAWAY: The 2019 World Champion Washington Nationals taught us that leading a team requires building a culture of resilience through team bonding. Giving others the ability to lead, creating focus through a rallying cry, and integrating rituals help create enjoyable, sustainable, and world championship-level teams. 

 

Shining Eyes

Lessons in leadership can come from many different sources. A mentor and former colleague of mine shared this with me and I thought I would pass it along to you.

In a 2008 TED Talk, classical music conductor Benjamin Zander discusses, The transformative power of classical music. In it, he shares an important lesson about leadership.

He says, “But the conductor doesn’t make a sound. He depends, for his power, on his ability to make other people powerful. And that changed everything for me. It was totally life-changing. People in my orchestra said, “Ben, what happened?” That’s what happened. I realized my job was to awaken possibility in other people. And of course, I wanted to know whether I was doing that. How do you find out? You look at their eyes. If their eyes are shining, you know you’re doing it.”

Like a coach or a CEO, most leaders create the conditions for success rather than doing all of the work on their own. Zander’s description of his role as conductor is a basic function of leadership. His feedback mechanism of looking for “shining eyes,” is one that I always keep in mind when practicing leadership, public speaking, and presentations.

Please watch the TED Talk and contact me if it spoke to you too.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Part of a leader’s impact is to, “awaken possibility in other people.” Leaders can see if they are successful by looking for “shining eyes”.