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Family Business


Photograph by Diablo Imaging

Does your family life feel frantic as you race from one soccer game, parent-teacher meeting, and backyard barbecue to the next? If so, you might want to check out Patrick Lencioni’s The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family.

In his new book, Lencioni, an Alamo business-management expert, turns his attention from Fortune 500 companies to the most important organization of all: the family.

The book begins with an overwhelmed wife searching for solutions to the chaos of kids’ soccer and swimming, school board meetings, and a husband out of town on business. She boils down management strategies developed by her husband’s firm to three questions parents should answer. These questions help parents identify what makes their family unique, and how to set priorities and steer their family ship to saner waters.

Lencioni, who’s written several New York Times best-sellers on business practices, illustrates ways to apply his system with real-life stories and practical tips.



I need to start this book with two quick confessions.

First, I am not a family counselor or therapist, and I don’t have a PhD in psychology, or anything else for that matter. I’m a management consultant and business author, and more importantly, a husband and a father of four.

Second, I struggle with many books on family life. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the subject or find them interesting. It’s just that they so often leave me feeling inadequate and overwhelmed by prescribing elaborate systems that can transform my family, as long as my wife and I have four days to invest up front and three hours per week to do follow-up exercises. Which, unfortunately, we don’t.

So what prompted me to write this book?

Well, in my work as a consultant, I have frequently found myself in conversations with my clients about their families. I am happy to report that almost all of the executives I’ve met claim that family is more important to them than work. And most of them seem to really mean it.

However, every one of those executives – including the one writing this book – would have to admit that they spend inordinately more time thinking about, strategizing about and meeting about how to effectively run their companies than they do their families. And yet they complain that life at home is far too reactive, frantic and unfocused.

Of course, this made no sense. Why would intelligent, family-oriented people over-invest in their work and fail to manage the most important organizations in their lives? And why wouldn’t they apply any of the tools they use at work to improve the way their families function? I think there are a few reasons.

For one, it might not occur to us that management tools from the workplace can apply at home. We don’t think about our families as organizations, and ourselves as the executives of those organizations. Additionally, I think many of us feel a little awkward, even embarrassed, at the thought of having a “strategic meeting” with our spouse to talk about family values or strategic priorities. Who does that, anyway?

But more important than all of this, I think we take our families for granted. Consider this.

Even the least organized among us spends time and energy planning and strategizing about our careers, our personal finances and our health. Why? Because we think we might be forced to forfeit those things if we aren’t purposeful and thoughtful about them. If we aren’t proactive about managing our work and our career, we might lose our jobs. If we aren’t strategic about our finances, we could watch our money disappear. And if we aren’t purposeful about our exercise and diet, our health could fail us.

But when it comes to being purposeful, strategic and proactive in our family life, we don’t really see much risk of loss. Sure, we might have to deal with more stress and exhaustion than we’d like, but it’s not going to threaten the existence of our families. And besides, every other family seems just as frantic as ours. Family chaos is just part of life, and so we accept levels of confusion and disorganization and craziness at home that we would not tolerate at work.

Sadly, it’s not until people actually have to face the possibility of losing their families (through divorce or substance abuse or other serious behavioral problems) that they finally come to realize that a little planning and strategy would have been worthwhile. But by then they’re spending hours and hours in painful discussions or counseling sessions just trying to recover what they're on the verge of losing. Which brings us to the old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that families can ever prevent or eliminate chaos and confusion completely from their lives. As long as there are sleepovers and in-laws and book reports and little league games and proms and college applications and weddings to deal with, there will be unpredictability and craziness in our homes. And that’s a good thing, because complete control – even if it were possible – would not be desirable. Life should be an adventure.

However, if we could achieve a little more sanity in the midst of that adventure, and transform our stressful, reactive, frantic families into more peaceful, proactive and intentional ones, wouldn’t that be worth doing? I certainly think so.

And that is the purpose of this book – to help you run your family with more clarity and context and purposefulness by provoking you to answer three simple questions that can change your life. I hope you find my ideas helpful and that your family benefits from them in many, many ways for years to come.

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