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)

Leaders communicate with emotion

I’ve been listening to a new podcast from author and consultant Patrick Lencioni called At the Table. The podcast is fun, easy to listen to, and has been both topical and conversational. The episodes are relatively short, and like Lencioni’s writing style, they are engaging. I recommend you check out the podcast (and let me know what you think of it too!).

One of the recent episodes focused on a quote from Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s claim that in 30 years, CEOs will be obsolete. According to CNN Money, Ma said, “In 30 years, a robot will likely be on the cover of Time Magazine as the best CEO.” Lencioni and his colleague and co-host Cody Thompson rejected this idea and talked about the human side of leadership.

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Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

In the episode, Patrick and Cody discuss how the old business adages recommending that leaders “keep people guessing” and “hold your cards close to your chest,” are bad advice. They discuss how they have consulted with CEOs whose flat affect or lack of emotion in communication creates extra work in the organization because employees are constantly trying to interpret and extrapolate on any small nugget of information they get. The content made me think a lot about how communicating both in general and communicating with emotion are necessary skills for transformational leaders.

Communicating with emotion is a powerful lesson for leaders for a few reasons. First, without it, it creates a vacuum. Second, without it, it creates politics. Third, without it, psychological safety erodes.

Let’s look at each of these a bit closer.

As an undergraduate student studying government and politics, I remember hearing the saying, “nature abhors a vacuum,” which is attributed to Aristotle. We also learned the related concept of a power vacuum, which means that when there is no identifiable leader, others will rush in to fill the void. When leaders fail to communicate, including failing to communicate with emotion, other people in the organization tend to fill-in missing information for the leader though the information may not be consistent with the leader’s intentions.

Second, when people in the organization or group are confused, it can create politics. This happens when one group interprets the leader one way and hears one message, while another group is reading between the lines hears something different. Then each group positions themselves to have their perspectives win out. All of these dynamics can be avoided by a leader that communicates effectively. Using emotion can also send the right messages, with the right tone, at the right time, to eliminate politics and interpretation.

Finally, the lack of communication by the leader can erode psychological safety. Without communication on relevant topics, followers almost always start to worry about the impact on them and their standing in the organization. Without clarification about the impacts of a decision, most people will almost always interpret them with negativity and worry. That is why shaping the message, which many leaders can do through their emotions, is vital.

Patrick and Cody are right. The Robot CEO isn’t coming anytime soon, at least not in service environments where people are the main asset of the business. Communication, especially communication with emotion, is a vital tool for all transformational leaders.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Communication with emotion can keep the people in the organization focused and on the right path. Without it, followers will spend their time filling the vacuum of information with assumptions, interpretations, and worry.