in: Family, People, Podcast

• Last updated: September 30, 2021

Podcast #467: 3 Big Questions to Help Frantic Families Get on Track

Does your family life feel frantic?

Does it seem like every week you and your wife are scrambling to manage all the stuff that’s going on like school and community activities, extracurriculars, social engagements, and home maintenance?

Perhaps what you need to do is apply some of the strategies that help businesses get organized to your family life. That’s the argument my guest makes in his book The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family. His name is Patrick Lencioni and he’s a business consultant for Fortune 500 companies. Today on the show, we discuss how the questions he asks his corporate clients to provide clarity and direction to their businesses can also provide clarity and direction at home.

Pat unpacks his 3 questions, and explores how vital it is to create a sense of context, mission, and purpose for your your family, why every family needs a rallying cry, and how to actually implement the principles we discuss in your family’s life. If you want to start leading your family in living intentionally, instead of staying in reactive mode, this is the show for you.

Show Highlights

  • When did Patrick realize that his business consulting principles could help families run a little better and more smoothly?
  • Why does family life feel so frantic these days? Was it like this in the past?
  • Why families need context, and questions to ask to figure out that context 
  • How to NOT go about coming up with family values 
  • What is a family strategy? How does that make families unique?
  • The importance of intentionality in making decisions regarding your family life
  • Why a family needs a unifying rallying cry 
  • How to keep the daily stuff operating smoothly while still being focused on big picture objectives  
  • How a single sheet of paper can keep your family on track 
  • Why you — the fella — should take the lead in planning dates and these strategic conversations

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family book cover by Patrick Lencioni.

Connect With Patrick

Patrick on Twitter

Table Group

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Does your family life feel frantic? Does it seem like every week you and your wife are scrambling to manage all the stuff that’s going on, like school, community activities, extracurriculars, social engagements, home maintenance? Perhaps what you need to do is apply some of the strategies that help businesses get organized to your family life.

That’s the argument my guest makes in his book, The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family. His name is Patrick Lencioni. He’s a business consultant for Fortune 500 companies. Today on the show we discuss how the questions he asks his corporate clients to provide clarity and direction to their businesses, can also provide clarity and direction at home.

Pat unpacks his three questions and explores how vital it is to create some context, mission, and purpose for your family. Why every family needs a rallying cry. And how to actually implement the principles we discuss in your family’s life.

If you want to start leading your family in living intentionally, instead of reactive mode, this show is for you. After it’s over, check out our show. That’s on And Pat joins me now via

Well, Patrick Lencioni, welcome to the show.

Patrick Lencioni: It’s great to be here.

Brett McKay: You wrote a book about three questions that can help frantic families. But you’re not a psychologist, you’re not a family counselor. You’re actually a CEO guy, or consultant. Tell us about your background, because it’s really interesting.

Patrick Lencioni: Yeah. I didn’t go to grad school or anything. My parents didn’t go to college. I just went to college, first generation, and then got a great job out of college … or it was supposed to be a great job, at a management consulting firm. And it wasn’t for me. I was really more focused on the human side of business.

So, through various blessings I had, I was able to get into this field. And then about 21 years ago I started my own company, and wrote my first book, which was a total accident. I just came up with the theory and somebody said, “You should write a book about it.”

So I wrote a fable, because I was a screenwriter in a previous life for fun. And people liked that. And then it took off, and I started writing more and more. And now, I’m considered something of a thought leader in the field of organizational health, leadership, teamwork, and all things related to business or organizations. So that’s my story, if you will.

Brett McKay: Right. So companies hire you to come in, look at how they’re running the ship, basically. And you offer suggestions on how they can improve.

Patrick Lencioni: That’s right.

Brett McKay: So, what was the moment when you realized that you thought the same principles you use with companies, could also work to help improve families run better?

Patrick Lencioni: Well, so we have four kids. Four boys. And my wife and I, like so many, it was a pretty frantic life. Two of our boys are in college now. It’s no less frantic, because we’re very involved with them still. But I was going out and working with great companies like Southwest Airlines and Chick-fil-A and all these other businesses, and helping them make their businesses more sane, more intentional.

And then I go home, and life was very reactive. And it was crazy. I said to my wife one day, not in a rude way, but it sounds pretty rude, I said, “You know, if my clients ran their companies the way we do this family, they’d go out of business.”

And it was really an indictment of myself. I like to tell the story like my wife got really mad at me. But the point was, here I would go to offsite meetings with my team at my office, my company. And I’d help my clients do that. We’d get very intentional about what our values were, and our strategy, and how we’re going to execute. And we have a rhythm for that. And we go home, and whatever comes up that day, we just respond to it.

I just thought, “Why is this? My family is more important than my business. No doubt. So why do I spend so much more time managing my business than my family?” And when I really thought about it, Brett, I think what it came down to, is because there’s not unconditional love in companies. You can get fired if you do a bad job, or your customers can leave.

But at home, we tend to take it for granted, unconditional love. “Well, my kids are going to love me, even if I’m not very intentional. And my wife, what are we going to do? This is just how we are.” And so, sometimes we take advantage of what we believe to be unconditional love, and we don’t do our very best at home.

Brett McKay: The book is Three Questions that Help Frantic Families. I imagine, as you talk to people you coach, CEOs you coach, I’m sure they mention their family life. And I’ve noticed this too in my own interactions with friends. Everyone just feels so frantic, and like they’re flailing around.

Patrick Lencioni: Yeah.

Brett McKay: What do you think is going on there? What makes family life so much more … Was it like this in the ’50s or ’40s? Or is this something new or different?

Patrick Lencioni: No, I think it was different. I’m sure there was some franticness. But back then … We were just talking about this in the office … that back then, parents were not near as involved in their kids’ lives. You kind of sent them out there and said, “If I put a roof over their heads and love them, they’re going to make it on their own.” Half of them went into the military … and life was harder.

Today, I don’t know what it is about our generation. But dads and moms alike are totally involved at home. Often both working, and yet they’re driving their kids to every underwater travel lacrosse team. I mean, it’s crazy how many activities we think we have to get our kids involved in. And yours are younger than mine, let me just tell you, you don’t have to have them involved in all those things.

I have twins that are now 20. And when we grew up, in a very suburban area where everybody participates in everything. Everybody would say, “Well, you have to sign them up for that, because if you don’t sign them up when they’re five, they’re never going to get involved in it when they’re 17, and then they’re never gonna go to college and never gonna have a normal life.”

And so … Gosh, it was nuts! And that was the prevailing wisdom. And so, here we are, overcommitted, underenjoying it, it’s making our kids too stressed out. It’s making us stressed out. And this is not the way we’re meant to live. I just realized, “Boy, we should start being more intentional. And start taking care of our families in a way that we take care of our businesses.”

Brett McKay: And it’s not just-

Patrick Lencioni: Does that make sense to you, Brett?

Brett McKay: That makes sense. And it’s not just kids getting overcommitted. It’s parents getting overcommitted with church organizations, community organizations. Just having friends in a social life; that adds to it as well.

Patrick Lencioni: Oh my gosh. And every day, it was basically, “What did somebody email us about, and what do we have to respond to? And what decisions do we have to make today?” And every one of them felt like a gut-wrenching crapshoot, rather than an intentional, calm, peaceful decision, with some sort of rationale.

Brett McKay: Okay, let’s start talking about solutions. The overarching solution, you say, is, “Families need to provide context for themselves.” What do you mean by providing context for a family?

Patrick Lencioni: Well, it’s the same as in business. In fact, my company is called The Table Group, because we believe the table is the best piece of technology that exists. We almost called it The Context Group, because without context, it’s really difficult to make decisions and be intentional.

In context, it’s just really answering some questions to give yourself clarity. So that when you have to make decisions and live your life, you have something to look at, and say, “Well, what makes sense here?”

For instance, one of the things we say is, when I work with a company, one of the first things we do is we say, “What do you believe to be true in terms of your behaviors?” Every great company, Southwest Airlines, we helped them … They were great it … but we helped them codify their values. What are the three behaviors that need to be true here for a person to fit in and be successful?

I thought, “Well, why don’t families figure out what their values are?” Everybody talks about family values. And then you say, “What are those?” And they go, “I don’t know. They’re family values.”

So what I realized is that a husband and wife need to sit down and say, “What is it that we believe to be so true in our family, that we want to teach it and reinforce it in everything we do?” And it probably is different from one family to another. Your brother and sister-in-law, though, might be very wonderful people, and close to you, are going to have different ones. And the family next door or the one that sits in the pew next to you at church. They’re not necessarily going to be the same.

My wife and I sat down and we said, “What is it that we were attracted to each other about? What was it about one another that we loved, that we have in common? And let’s build our family around that.” And so we did.

One of the things I loved about my wife when I met her in college was that she would stand up for what was right, regardless of the politically correct ramifications. She was courageous enough to say, “This is how I feel.” And she said that’s what she loved about me. So we said, “Okay. Let’s make that one of the pillars of our family: standing up for what’s right, regardless of the ramifications.”

She was very creative. I was creative. Our families weren’t necessarily creative. But we both loved that. We said, “Let’s teach our kids to be creative. Let’s build our family around that.”

And then we said, “Forgiveness is really important because we both get in arguments sometimes. And we have to recover. We said, “Forgiveness.” Those became our three values. We said, “That’s what makes us unique.”

Some of my favorite people in the world, Brett, and I’m sure you and your wife would come up with three different ones. And the point is, do you know who you are, and do you know what it means to be a Lencioni in my family? And so, having that kind of clarity just helps us to say, “This is what makes us unique.”

Brett McKay: Yeah, that first question, providing context, is what makes us unique? It’s figuring out your core values. And I thought this was an interesting distinction you talk about in the book.

Because as you’re consulting companies, companies, the whole thing, coming up with a mission statement, company values, it’s become so cliché now, and oftentimes you’ll see companies come up with these things like, “We believe in doing good and being honest …

Patrick Lencioni: And making as much money as possible while saving the environment.

Brett McKay: Right. It’s like those are values, but they’re not actually core values. When people typically come up with core values, whether it’s a business or a family, what are they actually doing typically … and it’s actually wrong?

Patrick Lencioni: Well, first of all, when we come up with values, and I wrote this for corporations too. There’s different kinds of values. There’s aspirational values. Those are ones that you don’t have, and you wish you did. And you’re going to try to work on that.

We don’t call that a core value. That would be like my wife and I saying, “Neither of us are very organized.” We’re the same Myers-Briggs type pretty much, and we’re kind of spontaneous. Which is nuts. But that’s who we are.

If we said, “One of our core values is being organized,” anyone who knew us would think we were fools or liars. And so, you gotta know what’s not true, even if you wish it were true. You don’t build your company or your family around that.

The second one is there’s permission to play, which are those very obvious ones like, “We’re not murderers.” It’s like, “Be nice.” Well, that doesn’t make a core value because it’s usually pretty generic.

And then there’s some values that you don’t want to build around because they’re weaknesses. And you got to guard against that. Core values are the things that are so endemically true, and good, and that you want to be, that you double down on those, and say, “Let’s never violate those. Because that’s who we are.”

It’s like an example, Southwest Airlines. I was just talking to somebody from there today. They’re friends of ours. One of their core values is having a self-deprecating sense of humor. That’s what they talk about. Anybody that’s ever flown Southwest knows that.

Well, once a woman complained about the humor on the airline because they were making jokes during the safety check. Well, the CEO at the time, Herb Kelleher, the founder, he wrote her a letter that said, “We’ll miss you.” Instead of saying, “Oh, we’re sorry.” It’s like, “Hey, that’s one of our three core values. We’re not gonna change that.”

In my family, one of my sons was really little, he got in trouble because he stood up for a friend at school, to a bully. And of course, like they do in so many schools, they brought both the bully and my son in, who stood up to him, and told them both they were wrong.

And we absolutely reinforced our son. We said, “You did the right thing. Really, the principal was rewarding you. And we think what you did was fantastic.” Because standing up for what’s right is one of our core values; we will never sacrifice that.

So if you don’t know what your core values are, you don’t know how to protect them and to reinforce them. And most people think they don’t really know what they are. Or they have a list of 12 things, which are a mishmash of nice things, easy things, wishful thinking, bad things. And they just throw ’em together and call it values. That was a long answer to a short question.

Brett McKay: No, no, no. That was really clarifying. But how can people, when they’re sitting down, trying to answer this question with their wife. How can they ensure this is actually a core value? They have to ask themselves, “Do we actually live this today?” Is that what the-

Patrick Lencioni: Yes.

Brett McKay: Okay.

Patrick Lencioni: That’s a great question. Here’s the beauty of this book, and this concept. And by the way, let me tell you something. This book called The Three Big Questions for Frantic Families, I’ve written 11 books. Almost all of them are about business. This is the first one which is really a business book for families. It’s sold by far the least of all of them.

And yet, everywhere I go, people will come up and go, “We have transformed our family.” And it’s very embarrassing for me as an author, because they’re using it more than I am.

I think this book has gone deeper for more people than anything I’ve ever written. And it’s sold a fraction of the others. It’s one of those books, I think, is really great. But people generally don’t go out and buy books to change their families. They wing it, which is part of the problem.

So, getting back to what you asked me. You don’t need to spend three days at an offsite in the woods to figure this out. You can go on a single date. Let’s say you have 90 minutes to sit down. That’s a long date, I realize. And you sit down and you say, “Hey, what is it about one another that we admire? And that we want to be true in our family forever? And we want to raise our kids, reinforce it, live it, and we never want to make decisions that violate that.”

Like I said, my wife and I just said, “Well, what was it that I liked about you?” And I had told her things about her that I loved, and she goes, “Well, that’s exactly what I love about you.” And I said, “That’s it! That’s one of the things that we have in common, and that we admire each other around.”

There’s people in my office, that one of their core values is humor. And I happen to know the woman and her husband and they’re hilarious. And that humor is a huge part of their life. They value it. Now, when they came up with that one, I thought, “Well, gee. I should be humorous too. That should be one of ours.”

No. That doesn’t mean we don’t like humor. But that is a founding principle in their family. It’s how they interact with one another. Another one was generosity. They’re really generous. And I thought, “Well shoot, that should be one of ours.” Well, it doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to be generous. But it’s not necessarily the foundation of who I am.

I’ve read your bio, Brett. And you and your wife could sit down, and it would not take you long, and you would be pretty clear. You’d go, “Oh yeah, it’s these things.” Because you’d look at not only what you believe, but how you act. And it’s not hard. In 20 minutes, on that date, that hour-and-a-half date you can come up with all of these questions answered.

Of course, after you answer them, two weeks later, your wife’s going to come to you and say, “Hey, wait a second. I thought of another one. I think this is it.” And you’re not going to go, “Well, we already laminated it and made T-shirts,” because you’re not gonna do that anyway. You’re going to go, “Hey, you’re right.” And so you’re going to add that one, or change it.

It’s a process, but it doesn’t need to take days and flip charts. It’s really going on a date and asking a few basic questions of one another about what you love.

Brett McKay: Besides figuring out your core values to figure out what makes your family unique, start providing that context, because these values start helping you guide your decisions. You also talk about strategy. How can a family … Well first of all, what do you mean by a family strategy? And how can that make them unique?

Patrick Lencioni: Yeah. And that’s the whole thing. Strategy is one of those words, like communication or love, that everybody defines differently. And nobody really knows what it means.

When we talk about strategy, both in our company and in regard to families, what we mean is, “What are the intentional decisions you’ve made as a family that will differentiate you from others, and give you the best chance to be successful, or live the life you want to live?” And you have to look at your life.

And so my wife and I said, “Well, what are the strategic things that we’ve decided that make us who we are?” And we looked at it and we said, well, one is my wife stays home. She actually runs a Bible study now, and she’s fantastic, and she’s very involved in other things and in the kids’ lives. But she left her job and postponed her career, because she wanted to be a mom.

That’s a strategic decision we made. She didn’t do it regretfully. She didn’t do it just because every day she wakes up and does it. She said, “I am going to do that. And therefore, Pat, you are going to be the primary breadwinner. I’m going to be home with the kids.” And that was a core strategic decision we made.

Another one was, our lives are going to revolve around our family and our children, not our career. Even though I’ve been blessed to be successful, I don’t travel abroad hardly ever. I travel only for one or two nights at a time, at most. I’ve coached my kids’ teams. We’re very, very invested in our kids’ lives. That’s a strategic decision we made.

Another one is that we chose to live away from our families. Neither of us live in the same city as our families. We didn’t choose that necessarily on purpose. But we realized it was the right thing to do, where we live. So we said, “Our extended family is going to have to be a group of friends and people we know that aren’t part of our family.”

Like Thanksgiving this year was with the same family we always do it with. They’re like the cousins to our children. And the aunts and uncles, but they’re not. So we had to create an extended family that wasn’t part of our natural family.

Now, we realized that those are intentional decisions we made, and we need to honor those. So when somebody says, “Hey, do you want your child to be on the travel underwater lacrosse team and travel to Europe?” We look at it and we go, “Would that allow us to have a family where we were totally involved in their lives? Nope. We’re not gonna do that.”

And when somebody says, “Hey, do you want to buy a house in Lake Tahoe?” We look at that and we go, “Well, it depends. Would that allow us to live according to our strategy or not?” And it gives you peace, so that when you make decisions, you don’t feel like you’re making it up from scratch. You look at your values, you look at your strategy, and you say, “This is probably the right decision.” And you move on.

Brett McKay: Right, because you’ve already made the decision, right?

Patrick Lencioni: Exactly! And that’s what businesses do. But usually, when people go, “Do you want to be on the underwater water lacrosse team?” The parents look at each other and go, “I don’t know. Do we want them to be in lacrosse? Is that our goal for them in life? I don’t know; what are the kids next door doing? I think our cousins are doing that. Does he want to? Are we going to regret it?”

This is real angst people feel. And they end up making decisions that they look back on later and say, “We didn’t even live our lives intentionally. Things just happen. And that’s not how we’re meant to live.” Intentional living is really a good thing. And so this, having the context allows you to be intentional. And not reactive.

Brett McKay: No, my wife and I have implemented strategies like that. We try to limit the amount of activities our kids get involved in. I don’t travel or hardly do any speaking engagements.

Patrick Lencioni: And see, there’s people listening to this who are going to go, “Oh, man, I should do that too.” And it’s like, well, first of all, be intentional about it. There’s some great parents out there who say, “No, I can travel a little bit, but I’m going to take lots of time off, and I’m going to do it differently.”

What you don’t want to do is let the world dictate this to you, and you feel like a victim of circumstance. ‘Cause there’s a lot of people listening to this that said, “I never really made a decision just as a business. I just started saying ‘yes.’ And before I knew it, I was living a life that I hadn’t really chosen.” And so, again, it’s about context and intentionality versus reactive, feeling like a victim of circumstance.

Brett McKay: All right. Your values, your strategy, serves as a filter for all of the stuff that comes at you every day in your family life. The second question is, “What’s our rallying cry?” What do you mean by that?

Patrick Lencioni: Okay. This is probably the most powerful part of this. And by the way, all of this you can come up with in one date. The rallying cry goes like this: and we use it in companies, too. What is the single most important thing that you need to focus on as a family right now? And let’s say in a family for the next three months?

For the next three months. It might be longer; it might be six months. What is the biggest thing going on in our family that we have to get done right? Because the problem is there’s a thousand things going on. But what is the biggest thing right now?

Now, a few years ago, my sons were getting ready to go to college, and it was all about … Laura and I said, “Everything we do has to be done in the spirit of how are we preparing our boys and our family to go away to school?” So we had to think about, “Okay, that was our rallying cry. Getting the twins, 50% of our children, ready for college.”

Now, were there other things that were interesting? Absolutely. Other things I wanted to do? Yep. But I couldn’t do those if I was doing it at the expense of this, because that was the number one thing.

Years ago, Brett … and this is my favorite one … When we had three children, we had three boys, and my wife and I are disorganized, so we were pretty scattered. We found out we were pregnant. We weren’t surprised; we knew how that happened. And we were very excited, very excited, obviously. But we were like, “Oh my gosh, we’re already stressed. We’re already overwhelmed. What are we gonna do? We’re gonna have another child. And it’s a boy!”

So we said, “Okay.” Our rallying cry was, “Prepare our family for Baby Number Four.” So, that doesn’t mean you should go out and put signs on the wall, and make T-shirts, like companies do. Your rallying cry is the guide for everything else you do. So we said, “If that’s our rallying cry, prepare for Baby Number Four.”

Then you have to come up with what we call your strategic definitional objectives. The objectives are the goals that determine whether or not that goal is going to happen. We call it in the business world, defining objectives. They define how we’re going to get that done. So we said, “If we’re going to prepare our family for Baby Number Four, what do we have to do?”

Well, the first thing we had to do is we had to get our seven-year-olds … that’s how old our 20-year-olds were at the time … We had to discipline them up because they weren’t taking a shower without us pushing them in there; making their own lunch; getting their books together and their homework done; without us goading them. And we said, “When our fourth child Michael comes, if those boys are not more disciplined, we are not going to be able to do this.” That was our first defining objective.

Our second one was, we have a two-and-a-half-year-old, three-year-old, who’s not where he needs to be. So we were like, “Casey, get out of our bed and get out of those diapers, ’cause life is over as you know it.” We had to get him schooled up because if he wasn’t more mature in those little areas, we weren’t going to be able to handle it.

Then we had to clean out our garage, because we had more stuff coming in. We had to outsource some activities in our family that my parents thought I was crazy, ’cause we should mow our own lawn. But we said, “We can’t do that.”

And then we had to finish the kitchen remodel that we were in the midst of, that had been going on for 12 months. That we were about to kill the contractor. And we said, “If Michael comes and that’s still going on, we are going to kill that contractor.” So we had five defining objectives.

If we’re going to be ready for Baby Number Four, we have to have the twins schooled up, we had to have Casey better disciplined, we had to have our garage cleaned out, we had to finish the contracting, and we had to outsource some services. When my wife and I went to bed at night, Brett, we would think about those five things, rather than the million little details that overwhelm us.

So, you come up with that defining objective or that thematic goal. What’s the biggest thing going on in your family right now? And then you come up with, “What are the four or five things that we have to do to make that work?” Does that make sense?

Brett McKay: That makes perfect sense.

Patrick Lencioni: Below those defining objectives there’s these things called standard objectives. Which are ongoing in a family. For instance, my wife and I had to get ready for Baby Number Four, but I also had to pay the mortgage, we had to keep our marriage strong, we had to keep our faith strong, we had to keep the kids healthy, keep them doing well in school. So there’s what we call standard objectives, which probably don’t change for like 10 years at a time. Because they’re like, “How do we keep the family in business?”, so to speak.

There might be some other things that are pretty much always going on. The question is, what’s particularly unique as you go into 2019, given what’s going on in your family? And there’s no right answer. It’s just you have to have one answer.

Let me give you an example. When we were getting ready for Baby Number Four, I was determined to re-landscape our front yard and our back yard, because we had bought a new house. It was kind of crazy; it wasn’t very kid friendly. And we said, “Nope, we’re not gonna do it. That is not the most important thing we need to do right now.”

And so every day I would pull into the driveway and see that ugly front yard and I’d go, “That ugliness is a testament to my discipline. On focusing what really matters.” ‘Cause there’s always three or four other things you want to do. And it’s when you say “No” to those things, because there is a higher priority, you know you’re living an intentional life.

Brett McKay: So the rallying cry is like that one thing that you can work on for the next three months that’ll really move your family ahead.

Patrick Lencioni: Yes. It’s gonna move the ball forward. And you will do that at the expense of a bunch of other things that would be nice to do, but aren’t as important.

Brett McKay: So again, one rallying cry … I think this is an example you gave in the book … It’s like, “Dad finds a new job,” because his job’s making him miserable, and Dad’s coming home, and we need to fix that.

Patrick Lencioni: And depending on the age of your kids, I talked to somebody just yesterday. A guy came into my office, a CEO, and he goes, “Oh yeah, we’re involving our kids now.” His kids are 10, eight, and five. And they’re like, “Oh, not the rallying cry.” But they sit down with them and say, “Hey, here’s the number one thing going on in our family.”

It might be, “Daddy’s looking for a new job. So here’s how we’re going to help him. He’s going to have to take a little extra time. We’re gonna have to do more around the house while he’s doing this. He might have to miss a few ball games because he might have to go do some interviews.”

You get the whole family rallied around that, and suddenly it becomes everybody’s in it together, and they understand why things are different. And you give Dad a better chance without stress, Mom a better chance, and it might be, “Mom’s health isn’t good.” Or “Mom needs to find a hobby.” Or whatever else it is.

If everybody’s focused on that, there’s a much better chance than if you’re siloed out and everybody’s working on their own thing. Which is exactly what happens in bad companies, and too often in families. Casey has his own thing, Connor has his own thing, Matthew has his own thing, Mom has her own thing. And everybody starts to pull apart.

Brett McKay: Okay. I just wanted to point out that one thing you said, because I thought it was important. Was, you have your rallying cry. These objectives you’re working on to achieve that rallying cry. But the same time, there are those standard objectives, those things you have to do day to day, to keep things going the way they are. You can’t let those slack, or else things are going to start falling apart.

Patrick Lencioni: Exactly. And it’s probably not that hard to come up with those at all. In my family, it’s pretty easy. It’s, “How’s our finances? How is our health? How is education? How’s our faith life? How’s our marriage? How’s our relationship with our extended family?” Those are the things that probably never go away.

The problem is, when you live for those things on the bottom only, you get burned out. Because you go, “Okay, what’s next?” Well, just more of the same. Another school year. Another checkup. Another vacation. Which are really really really important. But it’s not necessarily moving the ball forward.

You always have to, “What’s the thing that we’re doing that’s making our family even stronger, so that next year we’ll be a different family?”

Brett McKay: I love that. Here’s a question. You’ve been talking about coming up with this stuff, and it’s been like you and your wife. Do you bring your kids in on those conversations, trying to figure out the core values, the strategy, the rallying cry? Or is this like a CEO-level job, and you just convey that to the members of your family?

Patrick Lencioni: Honestly, the socially acceptable or progressive answer would be, “Oh, yeah, involve them.” But the truth of the matter is, you’re leaders of your family as the parents. And you need to set the thing.

Now, you can involve them in certain ways in terms of how to describe it, or how to make it real. And it’s a wonderful thing. Of course, it depends on how old they are. So yes, involve them. But just like I would say to a CEO, when they say, “Well, we’re going to do our values. We’re going to take a survey of all the employees to ask them what they are.”

It’s like, “No. Some of your employees don’t know the right answer. You’re a leader. You can solicit input, I suppose, but you need to set the direction.” And frankly, most of our kids want us to do that.

Now, if you’re a family and you’ve had a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old, I’d probably sit down and go, “Hey you guys, let’s talk about what we think the most important thing is.” But generally, the parents set the tone, and then involve them in how to implement it, and get their buy-in. But really, the parents’ job is to create that context.

Brett McKay: Okay. So the third question-

Patrick Lencioni: But it’s great to have meetings with them.

Brett McKay: Well, yeah-

Patrick Lencioni: And sit down with them.

Brett McKay: Well let’s-

Patrick Lencioni: Oh, go ahead.

Brett McKay: Well, that leads me nicely to the next question, this idea of meetings. So the question is, how do you talk about and use the answers to these questions? ‘Cause it’s one thing you do this thing on a date with your wife. We found out what makes us unique. We found out our rallying cry. And then you never talk about it again. And it just goes nowhere.

Patrick Lencioni: Right. You know what we did the first time we came up with this? We were at a restaurant that had paper tablecloths and crayons. Me and my wife, and so we sketched it all out there. And we just tore it off the thing, and stuck it on the refrigerator. And it would just sit up there and we’d walk by it in the morning and go, “Oh yeah, that’s right, these things.”

Here’s what a meeting looks like. I want everybody out there to imagine a single sheet of paper. And on the top is a big square that says, “Our Rallying Cry.” In our case, it was like, “Prepare for Baby Number Four.”

Then underneath that, horizontally, there’s five boxes. One says, “Give the seven-year-old twins discipline.” “Give the three-and-a-half-year-old out of bed and out of his diapers.” “Finish the kitchen remodel.” “Outsource some of the services.” And, “Clean out the garage.” Those were our five things.

And then at the bottom it says, Marriage, Finances, Health, Education, all those things. Faith. Okay. You have a single sheet of paper with these boxes on it. What you should do is, once a week, you should just look at it for 15-20 minutes and go, “How we doing in these areas?”

And you look at each one and you go, “Let’s be green, yellow, or red. Green means, ‘Man, we’re doing great.’ Yellow means, ‘Aah, we’re doing okay.’ Red means, ‘Oh, we’re way behind.'” And if you’re like me, I let people use lime if it’s between yellow and green, and orange between red and yellow.

We actually involved our kids in this, when they were 11 and seven and three. Where we’d sit down at night, sometimes, and we’d go, “Okay, let’s rate ourselves.” And it was so cool, because the kids would rate themselves in these areas. And they’d usually be tough graders.

So you go through and you go, “How we doing on the twins’ discipline?” And Laura and I would look at each other and go, “You know, they’re still not getting ready in the morning pretty well. It’s pretty good; it’s yellow or lime. Let’s just put in lime.” “Okay.”

                                    “How about Casey?” “Nah, he keeps coming into bed with us. Still in diapers. That’s a red.”

“How about the kitchen remodel?” “Okay, we think it’s gonna get done. We think that’s a yellow.” And you just go through the, it takes you five minutes. Then you look at it and you go, “You know what we need to do this week? We need to turn the red things to yellow, and the yellow things to green.”

“Okay. That’s it. Good. I’ll see you next week.”

The difference between that conversation for 15 or 20 minutes, once a week, and what most of us do in our families, is exponential. It’s massive. Families say to me, “Oh my gosh, just having that scratched-out piece of paper up on the refrigerator, and looking at the red things and going, ‘Oh, yeah, I gotta do this this week,’ ‘Oh yeah, okay, good-good-good, that’s how I’m gonna organize my day.'”

Most of us wake up and go, “What are we gonna do? Well, I’ll look at my email. I’ll see what the kids are doing. Who’s yelling the loudest for something. And at the end of the day, we go, ‘Did I really make a difference?'”

And with just this much structure … This conversation, Brett, might sound to people listening like, “It’s a lot of work.” Literally, in the book, there’s like a few pages where it says, “Go on a date and ask yourselves these questions. Do this and this and this.” It provides examples of different families. And in 90 minutes, you can turn everything upside down, and go, “I think we have a handle on this.”

And then if you take 15 minutes a week to review it, honestly, it takes you from zero to eight in terms of intentional living. And that’s all we really need, is to be an eight.

Brett McKay: Yeah. And I imagine husbands and families, I bet wives appreciate when the husbands take the lead on this. I think a lot of wives, they want to do this sort of thing, they want intentionality in their family, and they try to implement it. But they feel like they’re just dragging their husbands to it. And maybe it’d be better-

Patrick Lencioni: Yes. You’re exactly right. I was in this very room I’m in right now, in this conference room. And I had a CEO and his executive team in here. And we were talking, and the whole concept came up of dating. And I said, “Yeah, you know, it’s really frustrating to me, because we say we’re gonna date, but then my wife never schedules it.”

And he says, “No.” He was this Brazilian guy. He’s, “No. That is your job. You plan the date. You show her that it’s important to you.” And I realized it’s true. And by the way, this is true whether the women in my office who work; I have a woman in my office whose husband stays home and helps with the kids, and she works. But nonetheless, there’s this thing about men and women. Or manliness; I love it. Where men tend to think, “Well, my wife sets the social calendar.”

Well, the problem with that is it makes her feel like she’s trying to coerce you into doing things that you don’t really want to do. And when the husband says, “We’re going to go out on a date; I’ve planned it. Don’t worry about it, honey. We’re going to do this.” It’s pretty cool.

Even though I’m saying that to you right now, I still whiff at it most of the time. But it’s the right thing to do. I’ve got to say, “We’re doing this.” And having this conversation, my wife loved doing it. She said to me, and now she’s going like, “We’ve gotta do it again. We’ve got a new thematic goal.”

Brett McKay: Right. Leadership. Show some leadership.

Patrick Lencioni: Yep.

Brett McKay: Well Pat, is there some place people can go to learn more about the book and your work?

Patrick Lencioni: Yes. We have a Web site called Table, like the kitchen table, And you can find it there. We have all of our corporate stuff there, but you can find the Frantic Family … And you know, I’m embarrassed to say, I don’t think there’s a specific Web site for just this book. But the most important thing you can do is go to the Web site or just go to Amazon or someplace else, hopefully, and buy the book.

It’s crazy. I think it’s like $20. It’s a story! By the way, it’s a fiction story. Every people listening should know that all of my business books but one are short stories. Because I’m a screenwriter, so I write them like a little movie. Because that’s a lot more interesting.

So it’s a story about a husband and wife who are really frantic. And how they struggle with comparisons to other families and what they’re supposed to do, and how they put it together. And that really helps you understand what it’s about.

It’s short, it’s a good read. I think, if I might say so. And then in the back, there’s actually the structure for how to do it. This is probably the most useful book I’ve written.

Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Pat, thanks so much for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure.

Patrick Lencioni: Hey, I love The Art of Manliness. I love your Web site. I’m shocked at how many things you have that I wasn’t aware of. So to all those people listening, they’re probably already big followers of yours. But, what a great resource this is. I love it. It’s gonna become a go-to Web page for me.

Brett McKay: Well, thanks so much. I appreciate that.

Patrick Lencioni: Okay. God bless.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Patrick Lencioni. He’s the author of the book The Three Big Questions for Frantic Families. It’s available on and bookstores everywhere. You can check out more about his work at Also check out our show; that’s at families. You’ll find links to resources, where you can delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out The Art of Manliness Web site at If you enjoyed the show, and you got something out of it, I’d appreciate if you’d take one minute to give us your view on iTunes or Stitcher. It helps out a lot.

And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think will get something out of it. As always, thank you for your continued support. And until next time, this is Brett McKay, telling you to stay manly.

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