The business of family

It wasn’t the kind of cutthroat, bare-knuckled advice business owners often hear from a seminar presenter. But then, Stephen Covey is no ordinary speaker.

With a soft, delicate cadence more reminiscent of a therapist than a best-selling business guru, Covey opens his presentation with, “Good morning. Why don’t you give your spouse a hug and a kiss? Now, why don’t you tell them how much you love them?”

Covey introduced his newest empowering philosophy, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, to a collection of business owners at the national Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Institute in Palm Desert, Calif. Too many business owners face the same problem, Covey says. They’ve reached the top of the ladder of success, only to find it’s been leaning against the wrong wall.

Studies show that, when asked, 75 percent of people say the most important role they will have is that of parent. And 80 percent respond that the most influential person in their life is a family member. So why is it that business owners often ignore their families in favor of their businesses?

“No other success can compensate for failure in the home,” Covey says. “You are not a product of your conditions, you are a product of your choices.”

Even knowing the role of family and putting it first isn’t good enough, explains Covey. Families, like everything else, require work. Like a plane which is headed in the right general direction but gets pushed slightly off course by wayward air currents, families are off track 90 percent of the time.

The important thing is having a sense of destination and knowing what the track looks like, and getting to the proper destination, he says.

Included in Covey’s seven habits are three important things a family can do to help it become highly effective.

Create a mission statement

Many businesses, whether they abide by them or not, have mission statements hanging on their walls.

“Developing a family mission statement will be the single most important and far-reaching leadership activity you do,” Covey says.

Every member should participate in the creation of a family mission statement, Covey says. Once the wording is agreed upon, a mission statement needs to be more than a piece of paper that hangs on the refrigerator door. Covey suggests families identify ways to remind members about the goal.

Date your family

The family needs to have dates. Before you became a husband and a wife, you were boyfriend and girlfriend. You developed a closeness that led to marriage. Those same ties need to be strengthened with each other and with other members of the family.

“One-on-ones are where most of the real work of the family is done. This is where there is the deepest nurturing of the heart and soul,” Covey says.

Hold a family counsel

By talking to your family, you begin to understand.

“I think the deepest hunger of the human soul is to be recognized, valued and appreciated and understood,” Covey says. “When you acknowledge others and adapt yourself in an effort to reach them, in effect you say to them, ‘You are a person of worth. You have intrinsic merit, and I’m not comparing you with anyone. You are precious. And if you allow me into your world, I know that I’m on sacred ground.’”

It’s important to understand, not just hear, he says. The key is empathic listening. Covey defines five types of listening. The first four are from one’s own frame of reference, the final from the other’s frame of reference:

1. Ignoring — making no effort to listen;

2. Pretend listening — appearing to listen;

3. Selective listening — hearing what interests you;

4. Attentive listening — comparing what you hear to your own experiences;

5. Empathic listening — listening and responding with both the heart and the mind to understand words, intent and feelings.

Becoming an effective family takes work. It means being proactive, Covey says.

“The most important work we will ever do is in the four walls of our home.”

For more information about Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, call (800) 372-6839.

Daniel G. Jacobs ([email protected]) is senior editor at SBN.