EXCLUSIVE: Patrick Lencioni on the three questions you must ask “” now

EXCLUSIVE: Patrick Lencioni on the three questions you must ask “” now - top government contractors - best government contracting event

Patrick LencioniWe know him as the New York Times best-selling author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. Now Patrick Lencioni is applying his management insights to help the most important organization in your life: your family. With his latest book, The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family, Lencioni outlines three big questions you and your family should be asking yourselves “” especially in this economy. “During these times of stress I think that people will realize that, first of all, there isn't going to be a lot of financial or professional upside compared to normal times,“ says Lencioni in an exclusive interview with ExecutiveBiz. “I think that's going to cause them to realize they probably should be looking for other more important things in life … like peace at home.“

What are the “three big questions“?

Patrick Lencioni: The first big question for a frantic family is, “What makes us unique, what makes us different from other families?“  Too often we go about living somewhat generic lives and then we get caught up trying to be like everyone else and we end up feeling like we are pleasing no one.  We have to figure out who we are, and the way to answer that question is to talk as parents about what values of ours are unique from others. What is it that makes us different in terms of what we value?  What is it about our family that would make us different than the one next door, though we probably share some common values, we may go to the same church, and we may live in the same neighborhood?  What is it that probably brought us together as a husband and a wife, and what is it that we value more than the average family?

How do you get at that answer?

Patrick Lencioni: You could go on a date and talk about this or turn off the TV at 8 o'clock and by 9 or 10 o'clock you could have a lot of this done.

How has your family answered the first question?

Patrick Lencioni:  In my family we have three values, which are creativity, passion and forgiveness.  That is just kind of unique to us.  Then our strategy is we don't live near anybody in our family, we don't live near our extended family so we treat our friends like our extended family.  We also are immersed in our kids' lives.

Your four boys.

Patrick Lencioni: Yes, and also the church is kind of the fulcrum of our life because that is where our kids go to school, that's where we have made friends and we spend a lot of time.  Church, friends as extended family, and immersion in our kids' lives “” those are the three aspects of our strategy that guide everything else.  It informs how I work and where my office is and whether I travel overseas and whether we should sign up for this activity or go on vacation or buy a second home, which we don't.  It informs all of the decisions we make. So if you know your values or your strategy that's how to understand what makes you unique.

What's the second question?

Patrick Lencioni: The second question is, “What is your biggest priority as a family right now?“  We call this a rallying cry.  What's your family's rallying cry?  What's the one big thing your family is hoping to accomplish in the next three to six months because there are so many competing priorities out there?  A family has to say, “If we only accomplish one big thing right now that is unique to this period, what would that be?'  Too often we try to do everything and end up doing nothing.

You speak about that in your book “” that if you have too many priorities you end up having nothing.

Patrick Lencioni: Right, and life changes.  So, my wife cut her hand six weeks ago and had surgery and the big part of our lives is just getting through the next two months without my wife being active. So I'm changing diapers and driving carpool and doing all these things.  Any other big priorities we had in life right now are probably on hold.  Then there will be another time when you're preparing to have a baby or your kid is going off to college or you have to make another change or the dad lost his job so the big rallying cry would be to get dad back on his feet.  Then you ask yourself, “So, what do we have to do to help dad get back on his feet?“  You just lay those things out and you put this on a piece of paper and you stick it on the refrigerator or the cork board in your kitchen so that you are constantly reminded of what the big priority of the family is. So when other things compete for your attention you can say, “No, that's not the most important thing right now.“

Tell us about the third question.

Patrick Lencioni: The third big question is, “How are we going to use these answers in the daily and weekly running of our lives?“  It's one thing to figure these things out intellectually, how are we going to put this into effect? The answer is we are going to post it so that we can see it and we are going to have a meeting once a week for 10 minutes just to talk about how we are doing against these things and what we need to do differently this week to make things even better.

In a challenging economy the temptation might be to hunker down and to spend even more time at the office.  Should executives avoid this temptation?

Patrick Lencioni: That's a great question.  It really depends on the situation of the family.  If there is a family that is in dire financial straits and living paycheck to paycheck then dad keeping his job or mom keeping her job might become so critical that they need to say, “Right now dad can do nothing that jeopardizes his job, there is competition at work for who is going to get cut and who is not going to get cut and we as a family have to help dad.” So, that might mean that he can't coach soccer this season or he can't be involved in certain activities or he's going to have to work a little later.  That's OK if that's the decision they make.  The problem is that you want to make that decision purposefully and intentionally.

Other [executives] might say, “You know something? Whether I get laid off or not is not a function of the work I do right now “¦ it's going to be largely economically driven, I don't have any influence over that so maybe it's time I start focusing on the family because overinvesting in work right now isn't very productive.”

Regardless of which road a family takes the bottom line is to make that decision together as a team.

Patrick Lencioni: Yes, and have an answer. There is an old saying, “If everything is important, then nothing is.“  It's really important to say, “This is the number one priority in our family.”

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