“What is your family’s top priority–rallying cry–right now?”

This is the third post in a series on Patrick Lencioni’s awesome book, The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family: A Leadership Fable About Restoring Sanity to the Most Important Organization in Your Life.

Yesterday we looked at Question #1, “What makes your family unique?” And to answer that question I walked you through 4 steps that my wife Heather and I used in answering that question for our own family. So now that you have answered that first question, it’s time to move onto Question #2 which is “What is your family’s top priority–rallying cry–right now?”

What is the most important thing in the life of your family right now?

What is the primary focus of your family life right now?

Does everyone know what this focus is?

Is everyone on board–a unified team– when it comes to tackling this thing?

Lencioni writes the following:

“Every family needs a single, agreed-upon top priority, something it can rally around for unity and maximum impact…

There are two keys to answering any of these questions. First, limit yourself to one primary answer. As difficult as that sounds, it is critical. How many times have you written a list of ten priorities only to look back later and realize that you’ve accomplished just three of them, and not the most difficult (a.k.a. important) ones at that?

The second key is to identify the right time frame, usually between two and six months. Why? Because anything longer than six months can seem so far into the future that it’s tempting to procrastinate…Anything shorter than two months is not enough time to make progress.” (pp. 190-191)

So here is how Heather and I went about answering this question.

Step #1: Using the statement that you developed around your core values in Question #1 — identify a list of the most important rallying cries that you believe you should focus on the next two to six months. I find it helpful to list 3-4 then narrow them down, unless one just emerges without any other competing ones.

Heather and I came up with a list that focused on getting plugged into a church, focusing on our health, and implementing responsibilities, privileges, and consequences for our daughter who started kindergarten this year. Though all of them are important, we felt like the one focusing on our daughter and helping her transition through kindergarten was the most important as our rally cry. That doesn’t mean we won’t get plugged into a church or work on our health–but our focus and energy was on this instead. Implementing it may only take a couple of months, but making it work for our family may take much longer.

Step #2: Identify your defining objectives. Lencioni defines these as “just the basic categories of thing’s you’ll have to do to achieve your rallying cry” (pp. 193). What things do you have to do differently to make sure your rallying cry is realized?

For Heather and I that meant coming up with responsibilities, privileges and consequences for our daughter. That meant making them clear (we used a visual board that she helped create). That meant taking the time to sit down with her and walk through them with her. That meant helping her learn them everyday until they become a habit. Etc.

Step #3: Identify your standard objectives. Lencioni defines these as “just those regular, ongoing responsibilities that a family must pay attention to in order to keep its head above water” (pp. 194). You can’t just focus on the rallying cry and let other responsibilities around the house fall apart. What must you normally attend to?

For Heather and I that meant a continued focus on our finances (being on a strict budget). That meant taking care of household chores and items. That meant our continued focus on self-care. Etc. These are things we do on an ongoing basis–the rallying cry–is the primary focus in the midst of these.

Heather and I then came up with a rallying cry that essentially said “our focus in on helping our daughter learn new responsibilities, and the privileges that come along with them when achieved, as well as the consequences that come along with them when not achieved.” We then communicated to her that this is not about being perfect, or not failing, but rather an experiment and learning process in helping her successfully transition. We then identified responsibilities–defining objectives–(cleaning room each day; putting dishes in dishwasher; getting herself dressed in the morning; do things the 1st time when asked; no whining). And then we used the chart I mentioned before to help us achieve this rallying cry.

Here are a few tips I recommend

  • This should be fun.
  • Everyone in the family–from youngest to oldest–should know what the rallying cry is.
  • Make it visual (use a whiteboard in the kitchen; make a chart; get ideas from Pinterest).
  • Add incentives. When my wife and I worked on getting out of debt we used a milk jug to put all our loose change in. We used the money to have a celebration party when we got out of debt. That little jug and the growing change helped us stay focused on our rallying cry.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. New behaviors take time to develop. So be patient and see it as an experiment.