Leading a Family, Part 2

Last month in his blog space, I wrote about Clarity, the first of four core principles that anchor family leadership. I suggested that family leaders continually try to clarify – first to themselves and when necessary to others – what they want, need, expect, will and won’t do.


In Part 2 of Leading a Family, I highlight three additional principles for family leadership: Connection, Calmness, and Courage.



CONNECTION


Building an open, honest relationship with each family member practically defines family leadership. That’s because healthy connection with another breeds leadership credibility.


Not long ago, I spoke with a father who was upset about his 17-year-old son smoking pot. I consider the father wise because instead of scolding or correcting the son, the father viewed the situation as an opportunity to connect. He did this not by agreeing or disagreeing with his son’s decision, but by seeking to understand it, and by sharing his own fears and viewpoints.


In this case, a commitment to connection helped a father think twice before making a challenging situation worse. Open, stable relationships create a foundation for managing disturbances without chaos.


The best kind of connectivity happens before a relationship becomes troubled or unbearable. In that sense, connection acts more like a healthy diet than a pain reliever. It’s a conscious principle and a discipline, not a quick fix.


Opportunities to connect with family are in front of us every day. We just have to think to do it.


A parent who functions as a family leader seeks a meaningful, distinct connection with each child, and grandparent, in addition to maintaining a solid connection with the co-parent.


“Meaningful” connection implies that each person in a relationship can communicate honestly and openly with the other what they think and feel, without fear of how the other will respond.


The focus stays on connecting and understanding rather than on influencing, persuading, changing, or controlling.


Many leaders have discovered that connecting with another has more potency to influence an outcome than a lecture ever could.



CALMNESS


Anthony reacts defensively to his father’s blaming. April wants Richard to talk more about his recent cancer diagnosis. Jacqueline “hits the roof” when she discovers her sister lied to her.


It’s easy to get immediately sucked into the vortex of anxiety in a family.


Maintaining poise in the middle of family adversity requires inner calm. What would help you express your feelings under the restraint of thoughtful language, tone, and outcomes?


Overcoming the universal, knee-jerk tendency to respond quickly and emotionally requires taking a deep breath and a step back. That might mean a meditation practice, regular walks outside, or a quiet few minutes in a private space with a lit candle.


A calm leader is better able to think about the best interests of family relationships, especially in a crisis. They are more effective because they manage themselves before trying to influence others.



COURAGE


It would be hard to overestimate the percentage of family emotional problems that come into being – or get worse – because a leader lacks the backbone to face an uncomfortable issue.


“Having a backbone” might mean accepting responsibility for one’s own part in a problem, refusing to cave in to an unreasonable request, or having a difficult conversation when you “don’t feel like it.”


These are situations family leaders face all the time.


Sometimes, you reach a point when you know things will deteriorate if you don’t take a stand. You might be clear about what you have to say, but not want to face the other’s reaction to your message.


At other times, a decision has to be made: two unsavory options are in front of you, and not making a choice promises the worst outcome. Can you step up and make a hard decision, even if it might turn out to be a mistake?


These situations require a family leader with the courage to act on principle, define self, stay poised, and maintain calm in the face of external noise, disappointment, or anger.


The four principles presented in this and last month’s blogs offer building blocks for family leadership.


They are demanding, and no one will live these principles perfectly.


Perhaps now – as a new year unfolds – it’s a good time to elevate principles that support and strengthen your family leadership.