Occasionally executives attend a week long course on positive leadership and return to implement a new practice. Sometimes the implementation occurs in the home rather than at work. Recently a participant shared such a story. He returned home just as social distancing was being implemented. He found himself with a wife who was ill, overactive kids not in school, and an external world in chaos. He reports:
I love mission and vision statements and strategies. My mind dwells in the future and what could be. I loved your story about the culture mothers who had adopted and started using your teachings in their homes. I had been plotting all week in Michigan to come home and work with my family to develop a family creed. I thought identifying what our strengths as a family are would help steer us though this storm.
So, we watched The Avengers as a family. We talked about how each superhero brought individual strengths to the team and how they sacrificed for each other. Then, we brainstormed how we, as a family, are when we are at our best. What our behavior is like when we are having the most fun and being the most supportive we can be. We talked about our values as a family. Together, we crafted a statement, printed it out, and posted it on the wall in a highly visible location.
This is pretty impressive. He has a vision. He engages everyone. He begins with a visual. He surfaces data and together they construct a theory of the family flourishing. They articulate their values and craft a family creed. What followed?
The impact was underwhelming. When things went wrong, we would ask if we were living our creed. Sometimes it helped, but it often didn’t.
I love the fact that he shares the failure. This is what almost always happens in any kind of intervention. It initially fails. The normal response is to stop trying. The initiative dies. In his case it did not die. Pay attention to what happens next.
The growing isolation from friends, canceling of activities long-term, and forced closeness was creating increased tension between all of us. Then, one day I had to go into the office. Guiltily, I was excited to leave the house, despite the risk. When I arrived, I started my typical routine, which includes a practice I started several years ago. Before going into work or into my home, I put on a kipah (we’re Jewish) and say a thank you for a few specific things that I am grateful for in that moment. I also say the Shehekianu, which is a short prayer declaring thankfulness for coming to the present moment. Performing this ritual for the first time in weeks, a light bulb went off in my mind. I had initiated this practice to bring myself into the present, but the reality was that it provided me with so much more. Your lectures helped me to understand that it was actually helping to put me into a positive leadership mindset. That attitude adjustment was what we needed at home.
That evening, I started a new practice. Each day, all four of us write down one thing (and only one thing) for which we are grateful. We then tape it to the wall around our family creed. The results have been clear. There are still arguments and still unhappiness with being stuck in the house, but it happens less frequently and with less intensity. When someone is having a tough moment, someone else now suggests that it is a good time for them to do their gratefulness for the day. My eight year old noted the other day that he had been reading the wall and was amazed that no one had repeated themselves even though we had been at this for a few weeks.
While in class, I thought the family creed was the answer. Our family heavily falls on the competitive-collaborative continuum. Thinking about gratitude brought the dynamics of a different quadrant to the conversation and the impact was significant.
I’ve included a picture of our family creed with our moments of gratitude surrounding it. It is likely the only family creed you’ll see that includes references to fart jokes.
This was a change in the family. It could just as well have been a change at work. When we find a positive practice to implement, we tend to meet resistance and failure. Yet, if we remain committed, we have additional experiences. We learn our way into the modification of our initiative. It is then that we often begin to succeed.
- Are you a leader at home?
- What is your highest purpose at home and how do you evaluate progress?
- Are you a leader at work, how do you know?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?