Monday, September 27, 2010

The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family by Patrick Lencioni

The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family: A Leadership Fable About Restoring Sanity To The Most Important Organization In Your Life (J-B Lencioni Series)
I can't recall, exactly which of the bloggers I read recommended this book, but I thought it might prove interesting. This was a really quick read, with a lot of simple principles laid out in a "leadership fable". Lencioni tells the story of a family (it could be any of us) which spends most of its time rushing about, trying to get all the things done in a day that it has to, from housekeeping to kids' soccer games, school board meetings, business travel, and so forth. The husband in the family, Jude, says to his wife one night, "If my clients ran their companies the way we run this family, they'd be out of business."

After the fight...

The wife, Theresa, starts talking with her friends, some of whom seem to have it all together, and finds out that despite appearances, most families are struggling. From one of those conversations, "...I wish they'd stop cleaning their house when someone is coming over to visit. Scott always comments on how clean people's houses are, and I tell him that our house is always clean when people come over, too." I can remember when Michele used to go on a house-cleaning spree, and the kids would ask her "Who's coming over?"

After talking with a number of her friends, Theresa asks one of her husband's employees to explain to her what their business consulting firm does for its clients, hoping to find out what principles of a successful business might make their family run more smoothly, as well. What he shows her is a list of six questions:

1. What is the ultimate reason you're in business?
2. What are the essential characteristics that are inherent in your organization and that you could never knowingly violate?
3. What specifically does your company do, and for whom?
4. How do you go about doing what you do in a way that differentiates you from your competitors and gives you an advantage?
5. What is your biggest priority, and what do you need to accomplish to achieve it?
6. Who has to do what to achieve your goals?

One thing that Lencioni says (in the guise of th employee, Rob) I found amusing, as I've observed it at businesses I worked for in the past. "...when you convuse your core values with your aspirational, permission to play, and accidental ones, you end up with a very long list of generic sounding values that only inspire cynicism among employees - who think the executives are in denial about the real culture of the company." So true. Mission statements can be hell.

Another thing in the fable that sounded familiar to me was "...these crazy soccer parents say that if they (the kids) don't play on the all-start team by age eleven, they'll never have a chance to play high school soccer." I remember the parents and kids who were way too serious about sports. Perhaps for some of them it led to a high school or college sports career, but the time commitment was incredible, with no guarantees.

Theresa takes the questions Rob shares with her home and begins to hammer them into shape as something that her family can use. She ends up narrowing it down into three questions:
1. What makes the (fill in the blank) family unique?
2. What is the most important priority in our lives right now?
3. How will we keep these things alive?

Lencioni suggests being perfectly honest answering the first question, limiting the answer to the second question to something that can be accomplished within 2 to 6  months, and holding family meetings and keeping visual reminders of the priorities established by the first two questions in constant view. He also shows how to create a series of actions that will lead to accomplishing the most important priority, without sacrificing other things which are important to the family.

A quick read, a thought-provoking book. Grab a copy if you get a chance, and you're feeling overwhelmed by a life lived going in multiple directions simultaneously.

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