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Forget the boardroom: Families need management help

October 29, 2008 |  5:45 am

Franticfamily Pat Lencioni has been very successful at helping corporate managers improve their staffs -- in the process, he has written a string of successful books for the publisher Jossey-Bass/Wiley. But businesses aren't the only organizations that suffer from poor management -- families, Lencioni realized, need just as much help as your modern-day business firm. So, in his latest book, "The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family: A Leadership Fable," Lencioni draws lessons from the business world to apply at home. Nick Owchar caught up with him for Jacket Copy to learn more about how his new book came about.

Jacket Copy: Your firm, The Table Group, helps companies overcome management difficulties. Now, in “The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family,” you’re applying some of your professional lessons to families. Are families REALLY similar to companies? In what way?

Lencioni: Running a family is different than running a company, but I do think there is a clear link between the two. Sometimes we forget that being a parent is a leadership role.  And, while employees at work are not the same as children, there are requirements to being a leader in any context that apply across the board. Building trust, entertaining healthy conflict, inspiring commitment, holding people accountable and focusing on results are the hallmarks of leading any organization.

A family also needs to have a clear plan with focus, and constant communication -- no different from a business. For some reason, however, we tolerate lack of focus and clarity at home that we would not accept at work. This doesn’t make much sense given that most of us say our families are more important that our jobs.

JC: This book follows the same format as other books that you’ve authored -– management issues are contained within a fictional narrative. Why did you decide to give readers an anecdotal approach rather than a traditional outline, which is what other management books do?

Lencioni: When I wrote my first book, I wanted to write something that people would enjoy reading.  And I thought that readers would actually learn more through a fable format because they might be able to relate to the characters and the issues they were facing in their businesses. I was also an amateur screenwriter for a while, so I enjoy the creative process of bringing an idea to life through characters and dialog. 

Patlencioni

JC: What inspired this book?

Lencioni: Many of my clients over the years have told me that their families are more important than their work, but most of them said that their home lives were far more chaotic and frantic than their lives at work. When I realized that very few of them were applying any simple planning and management techniques to their families at home, I thought there was something missing, but I didn’t think too much about it until I was in the thick of chaos with my own family. 

With four little boys at home, my wife and I were frustrated that our household was frantic and reactive, but we had resigned ourselves to thinking that’s just how it has to be. Then it occurred to me that if I help companies be more purposeful, why couldn’t I do the same for my family?  My wife and I started talking about some of the concepts I use with my clients, and it helped us create context around what kind of family we want to be. We now operate with a little more clarity, less guilt and more courage when making important decisions for our family.

JC: What’s your own family life like? Is it frantic?

Lencioni: With four little boys at home, how could it not be a little crazy? I think a little bit of chaos will always exist in family life -– it’s part of the adventure, I think. But our chaos is more managed, and I have a lot less guilt about it. When my wife and I connect around the three big questions, at least we know why we are making the choices we are making. And we make purposeful decisions around the goals we have for our family. While it’s still somewhat frantic at the Lencioni house, we don’t experience as much anxiety as we used to.

JC: What were your sources for the experiences in this book –- was it your own family and friends’ families who determined the subject matter, or did you look beyond them?

Lencioni: While no character is biographical, all of my work is based on my experiences with my own family and from talking with friends, colleagues and clients. 

JC: “Frantic” is a word that applies to today’s families -– and it certainly applies to investors in the stock market today. I wonder, might a future book be about calming mom-and-pop investors?

Lencioni: I don’t think that’s my area of expertise, but I will say that as the current financial situation plagues each family, it’s a great time to hunker down and focus on your short- and long-term goals -- financial and otherwise. 

-- Nick Owchar

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