As a parent, you’re a leader.
You might be leading by yourself, with someone who supports and encourages you, or with someone who undermines you at every turn. Your kids might be little or full-grown. You might have a multi-generational household. You might not be related by blood at all.
Whatever your family looks like, you’re still a leader. It’s your responsibility to lead your family.
So where are you leading them?
This is what Stephen R. Covey refered to as Beginning with the End in Mind (Habit 2). Before you set out towards a destintion, it helps to define that destination, or you’re just wasting your time (and everyone else’s). You need a vision of where you want to lead your family.
In The Vision-Driven Leader, Michael Hyatt describes six pitfalls that you’ll encounter without a vision. We tend to think of Vision—and even Leadership—as a cold, sterile, corporate thing, but it’s just as important, relevant, and applicable at home.
You’ll have to read the book for the examples of what not to do, and there are some good ones, but here are some (incomplete) thoughts of how to apply the lessons. Don’t be a vision-deficit family leader.
- Unprepared for the future. You don’t know what the future will bring, but you know it’s going to come. No matter how much you fight it, some day, your sweet little angels are going to learn to drive. They’ll start dating. They’ll head off to college. What do you wish you’d known when you were that age? Start teaching them younger. Make sure they’re more prepared than you were. (And college? Better open an ESA yesterday.)
- Missed opportunities. See the teachable moments. Teach your children to love, serve, and be generous by doing the same yourself. When they step out of line, help them draw the connection between what they did and where that behavior will take them. (Help them see that vision, if you will.) Know what you’re looking for so that you’ll recognize it when the opportunity arises.
- Chasing too many opportunities. You can do anything you want, but not everything you want. Limit your extracurricular activities. You need downtime and time together as a family. My wife applies this every year when she prunes the orange blossoms; what’s left will grow into delicious, juicy oranges. Without the pruning, there would be more fruit, but none of it would be worth eating.
- Strategic missteps. Make sure everything takes you closer to the kind of family you want to be. Do you want to have big breakfasts on the weekend? Buy a house with a large kitchen where the entire family can cook together. Sign the kids up for activities that happen during the week so your weekends are uninterrupted. We have to know what we want in order to protect it—family time doesn’t just happen.
- Frustration and waste. Without a vision, we don’t understand how what we’re doing right now fits into the bigger picture. We invest large amount of time and energy in something that turns out to be taking us in the wrong direction—a strategic misstep. We end up chasing after the quick, easy wins because we can’t see anything further out than our trip to the lake this summer, if it doesn’t get cancelled again because things are busy at work. Plant the tree for your kids to enjoy with their kids. Fruits of our labors can take years to manifest, and that’s a long time to wait for feedback.
- Quitting too soon. Parenting is hard work. It’s hard like nothing else we’re ever going to do. It’s equally rewarding. If we don’t have an end in mind, we’re going to burn out and give up long before we reach it. We’ll spend all our time chasing those quick wins without developing the deeper strength we need to tackle the really tough things, the really great things, together. As a family. That end we have in mind gives us something to hang on to.
If your vision isn’t better than the current reality, they won’t follow you. No one wants to maintain the status quo. We innately want growth—to become more than we are. We will seek change however we can find it. The good news is, the future isn’t written yet.
Here’s a simple but powerful truth: The future hasn’t happened yet. It’s imaginary. It doesn’t exist. And it can take one of the countless shapes, depending on decisions we make in the present.
Michael Hyatt, The Vision-Driven Leader
Once you have your vision, then comes the fun part: communicating your vision. It may be clear to you, but that doesn’t help anybody else. Your family can’t read your mind. They can’t be any clearer on your vision than you are.
One of the best ways to get your family on board is to involve them in creating the vision. You’re not Moses coming down from Sinai with stone tablets. This is their family, too. Get their input. People—adults and children—will more willingly support what they’ve helped create.
Your vision will naturally change as your family changes. That’s perfectly normal—you’re only looking 3–5 years out, anyway. Focus on your vision, not the strategy and tactics that will get you there. That will follow.