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 This week we start a new series on family leadership.

Today’s BIG IDEA—If you have a family, or want to start one some day, a family leadership strategy needs to be part of your overall leadership plan for your life.

Here is a question to consider—What would success look like in leading your family?

In this series we will explore the best research on marriage, parenting tools, tips from authors and leadership experts, and some thoughts from people that have a lot more life experience than I do.

Let me begin by saying, in many ways, I feel unqualified to write this series.

I am still relatively new to leading my own family. And although I have a doctorate in family psychology, I’ve humbly found that it is one thing to know the information and another thing entirely to live out the trials of real relationships on a daily basis!

I still argue with my wife, get angry with my kids, and make lots of mistakes—often daily.

I’m not perfect and never will be. Neither will you. But I am committed to continuing to learn and grow as a leader of my family—for the rest of my life. Even if things did not turn out the way I wanted, I want to know I gave it my best shot.

Family leadership is not something you someday arrive at and never have to work at again. I believe it’s a constant process of stopping, reflecting, learning, apologizing, and recommitting to regularly. And my own journey has come with a lot of pride swallowing in between.

When people hear the word leadership, they often think immediately of the workplace. But a friend of mine recently said it best:

“You do not suddenly become a leader when you walk in the door at work, or are given a title. I believe in leadership for all areas of life, inside and outside of work. How you lead in one area will affect how you lead in another. If you are a leader, then it applies to your identity and everything you do.”

Our culture seems to embrace the idea that we can compartmentalize parts of our life. When I worked at the prison, it was not uncommon for officers to say that they were completely different person at work than they were at home. For good reason, you have to put on some emotional armor when working in a prison.

But often people seem to think of workplace leadership like Clark Kent walking into a phone booth (when you arrive at work), and suddenly you transform into a completely different person.

But life doesn’t work that way.

The way we practice behaving at work (habits) will affect how we behave at home, and vice versa. The emotions we bring with us from home—especially if we are avoiding them—will impact how effective we are at work.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for people to become so focused on workplace leadership and success that it comes at the cost of their closest relationships. Many authors, thought leaders, and mentors have issued stern warnings about this tendency.

If you could achieve every professional goal you ever had, but lost your closest relationships in the process, would it be worth it?

Even if our answer is No, we sometimes behave as if it is Yes.

Work is a vital part of life to provide for our families, and can be extremely rewarding and meaningful, but can be taken too far.

You need to set some guardrails and boundaries for yourself now before you take that next promotion. Define the role you want work to play in your life.

Without some clear guidelines, it will be easier to get off course.

Some questions to get you started—How many hours is too much? How many nights a week do you want to be home? What are the non-negotiable family routines you want to be part of every week?

Escape to Work

I’m embarrassed to say that when things aren’t going well at home, I often feel the seductive pull to work longer hours and spend more time at work. It is far too easy to justify.

In fact, some executive coaches suggest that many leaders escape the problems of home life by pouring themselves into their work lives—a place where they can rely on their title, are respected, and feel more in control. Some go so far as to say that every workaholic is driven by the fear of being ineffective at home, where things are messier and emotional.

But we know from extensive research on happiness, and interviews with hospice patients, that people remember relationships at the end of their lives, they don’t wish they had spent more time working.

In a prior post I talked about Bronnie Ware, an Australian hospice nurse who wrote a book about her experiences entitled The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. Not surprisingly, working too much was a top regret. Link at bottom.

Decide how you want to influence your family, don’t let it happen by default

And without a family leadership strategy, someone or something else will influence your family, or raise your children.

Author and physician Meg Meeker has spent the last several decades of her career treating the physical and psychological problems of teenage girls. She candidly describes the recent explosion of teen suicides and STDs. She argues persuasively that we must take highly proactive role in deciding how we are going to influence our families.

This strategy might include weekly family routines, dates with your spouse, dates with your kids, clarity about restricted activities, intentional conversations about values, or excursions that teach valuable life lessons.

And all of this requires TIME, with consistent investments.

I once heard author Daniel Harkavy say that by far his most rewarding moments as an executive coach had nothing to do with helping people grow their businesses or make more money. His greatest reward has been in seeing people become better parents and spouses—seeing relationships that heal and thrive.

Building a strong leadership strategy for your home life will not only help you avoid the agonizing pain of regret, it will also help you bring your best self to work every day, which undoubtedly will improve your work performance, and drive greater success.

Even if your children are grown and you have grandchildren, I believe it’s never too late to become more intentional about your family relationships. Start redesigning them today.

I will end with one of my favorite quotes:

“Our greatest fear in life should not be of failure, but in succeeding at things that don’t really matter.” –Francis Chan

Next week’s topic: Creating Your Family Vision

Suggested Resources

  1. Living Forward—Daniel Harkavy and Michael Hyatt
  2. First Things First—Stephen Covey
Dr. Parker Houston

Parker Houston

Dr. Parker Houston is a licensed clinical psychologist and board-certified in organizational psychology. He is also certified in personal and executive coaching. Parker's personal mission is to share science-based principles of psychology and timeless spiritual practices, to help people improve the way they lead themselves, their families, and their organizations. *Opinions expressed are the author's own.
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