6 Leadership Principles to Take Home to Your Family

Jun 15, 2020

Believe it or not, there’s not a huge difference between leading at work and leading at home.

In fact, if we asked some of our colleagues who actually liked their statistics courses about the predictive validity of certain leadership traits in creating healthy families, my guess is that the number would be pretty high. And the good thing is that these are actual skills and abilities that people have and do every day at work. Our task is to get them to take those skills home!

So, if we think about it that way, what do leaders do that can be applied to creating healthy families? Here are just a few thoughts:

1. Cast a vision. One of the best fathers I know also leads an organization of thousands of people, and he takes this skill home. He gets out the white board and asks, “Ok, team, so what do we want this year to look like? At the end of the year, what do we want to have done that would make it a great year?” Or, “What does everyone want it to feel like to live here? What do we want family dinners to feel like or be like?”

He says that to get everyone working toward a positive vision, like having dinners without squabbling, gives a standard for them all to work towards, instead of just a nagging parent saying, “Kids, stop arguing with each other!” To be a family that every year learns or gets better at new skills makes piano, sports or reading seen in a different light. To have a vision of being a family that helps others sets a direction for reaching out to neighbors, or schoolmates, or learning other service oriented behaviors. Or, a vision of making it a fun year: “If we want this year to be the year of fun, what regular activities, or what vacation would be the best to do that?”

Getting the whole family involved in creating what they want their family to be like gives some tracks that will guide them down the same path.

2. Build unity. At work, leaders focus a lot on team building, unity and breaking down silos. They know that disconnection and dissent will wreck whatever they are trying to do and make life miserable for everyone. But, often they do not apply this same intentionality at home.

When you get parents asking the same strategic questions of themselves at home that they do at work, they get more engaged at building family togetherness. They begin to think about issues like these:

What settings are best to get everyone to share what is going on with them? Dinners? Family meetings? Walks around the neighborhood? Retreats or camping?
What kinds of tones do we need to set that is going to build trust?
How can I model vulnerability and acceptance that will get people to open up more?

Am I seeing anyone in particular not being a part of the team? Is anyone disconnected? How can I bring that person back in?
What fun “team bonding” activities am I regularly making sure happen? Crazy lunches? Goofy games? Bowling night for a non-bowling family? What are some opportunities to “celebrate” victories by the individual family members?

3. Have regular meetings. No team gets where they are going without regular meetings, and the family is no exception. Family meetings can be a great regular structure where everyone talks about where they are in their individual plans, where the family is in terms of its own vision and goals that have been set, and a review of the behavioral contracts that everyone had for the week. For example, the family meeting is a great place to take the chore chart accounting and pay allowances or fines based on agreements. Also, it is a great setting to establish those expectations and have everyone talk about what the consequences will be, positive or negative, for adherence. Leaders hold their people accountable to standards of performance.

The family meeting can be a good place also to ask, “What does anyone need help with? Is there somewhere that we can pray for anyone, or help you do something?” And it is a good setting for talking about a value, or some other small lesson and asking questions like, “How are we doing in living this one out?”

4. Set stretch goals. We know from research that the happiest and most fulfilled people are people who set regular goals. I like to ask my kids to come up with their regular “stretch goals,” and share them in a family meeting. It gets them thinking of what the next “push” can be for them to stretch themselves in a particular area, and it also gives a context to check in and see how it is going. Added benefit: I have to give mine too, and it has helped me be more regular at working out!

5. Create a learning team with “continuous improvement.” Companies that thrive work hard on making their teams a place where mistakes, risks and failures are not punished, but used as an opportunity for learning. This does not mean that there is a lack of accountability or standards. But it does mean that the tone and nature of the standards are not punitive and shaming in nature. They try hard to “normalize” not getting it right so that mistakes and struggles can be shared and learned from. To make the family a place of learning, not punishment, is to create a growth environment.

6. Create and speak energy. Leaders energize, motivate and keep everyone moving. They are fuel for an organization, the fire that keeps it moving forward. So, they monitor their own energy and motivation, keeping it up and then making sure that they share it with their people. As is often said, they “speak energy” into initiatives and projects. In families, parents need to do the same thing. They need to ask themselves, first of all, “Am I motivating and inspiring everyone to get where we need to get?” And secondly, “Am I doing that in a way that creates more positive energy instead of negative energy and a drain?” In short, am I a positive charge when I walk in, or am I a drain? Leaders keep things moving forward, but they do it in a way that feels good to people.

So, it might be helpful to your clients to think of “Family Inc.” What they might find is that they already possess and practice many of the skills that it takes to be a stellar parent, and with a little focus, they could be having as much fun at home as they do at work.