the most difficult organization to lead

It is interesting to interface with so many different industries and companies of every scale–manufacturing, scientific, education, churches, non-profit, healthcare, service, technology, aerospace, and so on. I have a lot of fun working with most organizations. My experience is that technology companies are really challenging with the kind of work I do, but not the most difficult. I don’t know about you, but in my experience the most challenging company to lead well is… the family.

My wife and I are not experts by any means. We’ve been married for 13 years and been friends for nearly 25 years. We have five children spaced evenly between 0-10 years old. Life in my family is insane–in a great way! There is a lot they don’t tell you when you have so many children.

For instance, as a family of seven, we are automatically a “large group” at any restaurant, you will never ride with friends again, the biggest complaint in the house largely centers on “what is fair” (and every one will have a different definition of fair), there is no such thing as quiet time, bed time becomes a twisted reverse hostage negotiation, and dinner is always served with a lot of whine.

Look, I’m in the trenches here dodging bullets. I’m not hear to teach anything. I’ll let you know how to win the war right before I die… if we made it out the other side alive. My wife and I are learning one thing that seems to help our craziness:

1. Get real clear about who your “First Team” is

In my work with businesses I always ask leaders who their first team is: the team they lead or the team they are on. Most leaders quickly answer the team they lead, prioritizing the people who report to them. Which absolutely make sense. The problem with that is if the first priority of the leader is the team they lead then when the leadership team meets to make decisions about the organization they show up as advocates not team members.

My wife and I made the decision several years ago, that our first team is her and I–and that is it. We would like to try to make every effort to ensure we are aligned first, then with the kids second. This is painfully difficult. I know it makes sense to think that the kids are the first priority. However, with a family our size my wife and I are realizing that if she and I are aligned and on the same page first we are able to take on the kids as a team–which is far more effective (if you could even use the word ‘effective’ in the same sentence as parenting 5 kids).

Bottom line: Life seems to have a way of acting like a wedge between relationships. When two people don’t make leaning into each other their first priority, life has a way of sneaking between them and driving them further a part. However, when two people prioritizing alignment as their #1 priority it is amazing how life has a way of making the bond tighter.

I’m not saying it is easy–conflict and accountability from a spouse is never fun. However, when it comes to families as crazy as ours, the best solution I think so far is to be very clear who is on the “leadership team” at home. Then make cohesion of that team your first priority.

And just because that all sounds really nice and easy, a quick shout out to the fact that: families are freaking hard… and you know, in my case I really love the challenge!

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