Friday, November 07, 2008

Context and Perspective for the Family (and our nation)


I read Patrick Lencioni's new book, The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family this week, and really enjoyed it. Lencioni takes the principles he has applied to organizations and business and applies them to the family. It is a worthwhile read.

Question #1 is "What makes your family unique?" Leadership scholars recognize that core values, mission, purpose, vision and strategy collectively define an organization's unique identity. They define the organization's context: the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc. Defining context is a way of plotting our position on a map in terms of culture, economics, politics, geography, and so on.

The frantic family does not have the same desire to define context as businesses or organizations. Lencioni simplifies the concept of context to a simple question: What makes us unique? What do we believe? What do we think is important? What do we do as a matter of routine? The answer to these questions is our context.

Pat's 2nd question is "What is our rallying cry?" Given our context, what should be our priority for the next few months? This is a question of perspective which is defined as "the state of one's ideas, facts, all relevant data etc., in meaningful interrelationship." In other words, my context (facts and circumstances) feeds my perspective on the future. The interrelationships represented in context give me perspective to make decisions on the next actions I should take to move toward my desired future.

For question #3, you'll need to buy the book, check it out from your local library or go to Lencioni's resource page.

Defining context and understanding perspective are essential roles of leadership. This is the development of clairity of purpose and direction for an organization. Context is complex and dynamic. Because perspective is about interrelationships, it is even moreso. Oh, and there is no "right" answer, because everyone's context and perspective are unique! The more effective a leader is at this task, the greater her ability to bring simplicity out of clutter, harmony from dischord and discover opportunity in difficulty (hat tip to Al E.)

This post is an illustration of context and perspective. We are three days post-election and have a new president. I did not vote for President-elect Obama. My perspective - my view of the interrelationship of his policy positions and my personal values and belief system (context) - would not allow me to do so. However, he was elected. So, our country now has a new context.

If we view our country's context through only one lense - politically, for example - we recognize that the presidency and both houses of congress are controlled by one party. Should we fear the immediate implementation of the agenda articulated in the campaign? Probably not, because another fact that informs context is that the majority is not "fillibuster-proof." Perhaps the minority party will provide a moderating influence (from my perspective, that would be a good thing.)

But to really define context, we have to add other lenses. Take economics. With the debt crisis, increasing unemployment, and the global nature there is a real limit as to how much tax policy can really change. And the lense of globalism? What would really happen if we left Iraq and Afghanistan? And culture? Will 48% of the people who did not embrace the new president's policies really just roll over? Oh, and my context is that God has not been surprised by anything this week!

Ok, must close. Here's the final application and thought. In the midst of our circumstances, our context is at risk of being narrowly defined. We can be paralyzed if we see only the negatives in a narrow context. On Wednesday morning, many expressed grief, angst and other negative emotions because their context was defined by the outcome of an election. To move forward, we need to back away and get a perspective that is shaped by the interrelationships of broad context. And when I do so, my optimism increases, the sky is not falling, and I have a responsibility and ability to shape the future!

And mid-term elections are but two years away! ;)

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