Leading Your Family With Vision
By Christie Smith
Browse through any bookstore, do an online search, ask around, and the answers are nearly always the same. If you want to be a visionary leader, you need to….fill in the blank. What’s missing from all the rhetoric on visionary leadership is a solid approach on how you can bring that visionary leadership into the home. You can learn how to lead a company, you can learn how to lead a team, you can even learn how to lead a church, but just how do you lead a family?
What seems to be missing in most families today is a purposeful vision. What does the family want to be? Who do the children want to become? How can you as a father get them there? Have you ever spent any serious time thinking about this before?
Exiting the rat race
So many fathers are so busy trying to be good providers for their families that they forget the most important thing their wives and children need – their time and attention. How much time do you spend thinking about work even when you’re not there? Are you distracted by your wife and children? Do their requests often seem like demands?
John Maxwell says, “When we have no vision, we lose our direction, our motivation, our joy, our passion, our energy, our creativity, our commitment. Fortunately the converse of this proverb is also true. Whenever you introduce a true vision into any area of your life, you gain new energy. Visions spark action and fuel initiative.”
What you need to do first, before you do anything else, is refocus and re-prioritize. Yes, providing is important. But it’s not the most important thing. Remember that old song by
“I’ve long since retired, my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day…
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don’t mind"
He said, "I'd love to Dad, if I could find the time.
You see my new job’s a hassle, and the kids have the flu.
But it's sure nice talking to you, Dad,
It's been sure nice talking to you…"
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me,
My boy was just like me…”
The point of the song was that the dad was too busy to really pay attention to his son, and by the time he realized it, he had raised his son to be just like him, and now that he finally had time, his son didn’t. If you spend time in reflection on these lyrics, it’s just profoundly sad. This can serve as a cautionary tale as well. Is this the way you want your children to feel about you when they’re grown?
Author Myles Munor, in his book titled Understanding the Purpose and Power of Men, says, “Being a true visionary is a lost art in our times. The average male can't say who he is because he has no real vision for his life. He is either floundering without purpose, or he is diligently pursing a false vision based on the values of contemporary society, which are often the opposite of what God values."
The Bible makes it clear time and again, relationships, how we honor and treat one another is more important than what we have or own. And it may not be that you don’t have a vision – it just might not be the right one. Chasing financial security is not the vision that God would have you hold dear. Do you honestly think God cares what kind of car you drive or where you live? We are told again and again that what our trappings are don’t matter. In 1 Peter 3:3-4 it says, "Do not let your adornment be merely outward, arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel, rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of the God." The meaning is deeper than the words. This admonishment does not just apply to excessive adornment on women. It applies to anyone who chooses the outer life rather than the inner.
So how to change?
Thinking of changing the way you live can be daunting. You and your family are in patterns that not only have you set together, but may go back generations. Leadership does not exist in a vacuum. It is generational. How your father taught you is more than likely how you are teaching your children.
Henry Blackaby’s book Experiencing God talks about letting God define our vision and purpose. God knows what he wants to do with us. It’s up to us to allow Him to do it.
Phillip Lancaster in Family Man, Family Leader states, “What are the long-term implications of the choices you make today? What difference will it make that you have (or neglect) family worship and Bible instruction? How will your grandchildren be affected by your prayer life today? How will your children be shaped by your choice of vocation? By where you choose to live? By the church to which you belong? By how you choose to educate them? By your policies concerning peer-grouping or entertainment or driving privileges? The choices you make today, even many that may seem insignificant, will shape the lives of your descendents and reverberate through eternity. Adam didn't just think ahead. Jesus did. You and I must.” Just because a father does not practice visionary leadership in the family does not mean necessarily that he is a horrible parent, however it does mean that he has not listened to and responded to God’s call to be more.
The first step in changing is acceptance. Accept where you are. Accept who you are. Take inventory of your character. Jesus told us to confess our sins one to another. That entails knowing what our sins are. Spend time reading Scripture, praying and reflecting on your life and relationships as they currently stand – your inventory. A good model for inventory-taking is a 12-step program. Part of practicing a 12-step program involves taking a realistic view of where one is and where one would like to go. It doesn’t matter exactly how you do this, just that you do it. You cannot begin to change yourself and your style of leadership within your family without having an honest assessment of how you lead now.
Once you take your own inventory, take that of your family. Not in a judgmental way, but in a way that can help you honestly assess what the strengths and weaknesses are in your family life. Do your children constantly complain? Do you or your wife let that behavior go uncorrected, or “give in” to childish demands because you’re tired and it’s easier? Operating out of that model is not healthy for your family, and it encourages your children to be unhappy. It also teaches them manipulative behavior that will cause them to not be able to sustain healthy and happy marriages of their own when the time comes.
Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and founding chairman of the Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California says, “Joan Goldsmith and I wrote our book, Learning to Lead, in the belief that honest, capable, ethical leadership is possible for all of us. I maintain that leadership is character. I also believe that character continually evolves as we continue to acquire, grow, and develop.” Let Jesus show you how to develop that character.
The noble cause, developing character
After you get a realistic view of where you are, start thinking about it differently, without judgment. Okay, so where you are may not be so great, but you have the power, with God’s help, to change it. The focus at this step is on what we’ll refer to as “the noble cause.” For our purposes, the noble cause is the character, or leadership, or vision that you develop within your family. It is the responsibility that you are now willing to assume for the spiritual welfare of your family.
Here’s a story to illustrate: England struggled during World War II, and many of its men were put on the line in military service. However, there were a great number of men who stayed behind, working in the coal mines. Coal was vital to the success of the war, but it wasn’t a glamorous job. Coal miners weren’t lauded for their efforts like military men were. Prime Minister Winston Churchill got wind of the coal miners’ discontent. Although a lesser-known story, it’s one of the most powerful from this time. Churchill knew that he must get the support of the coal miners. He knew it was imperative that he get, what we call today, ‘buy-in’. So he decided to address them.
He stressed the importance of their service and sacrifice to the war effort. He let them know in no uncertain terms that the work they did made the work of the soldiers and sailors possible. He talked about the returning military men once the war was over – the parades that would happen, the praise that would come. You’d think that at this point some of the coal miners might have been thinking that they were right to feel resentful, that they would get overlooked.
But Churchill knew how to inspire. He was a leader of vision. He painted a picture of the parade ending with the dirty faces of the coal miners. When asked what they did to support the way, Churchill said the coal miners would respond, “We were deep in the earth with our faces to the coal.”
Onlookers reported that Churchill’s vision brought tears to the eyes of many of these men. He had been successful in passing his vision on to them. They returned to the coal mines, secure in the knowledge that though they may not be at the front lines, their efforts were nonetheless just as important.
Churchill gave these men a “noble cause”. He made them feel that they were of value. You may not be in the middle of a war, your work may not be keeping a country from sinking, but you, too, have a noble cause. It is your cause to be the “Churchill” in your family, the leader who has a vision, and passes that vision on so successfully that the family bonds tighter than ever.
Passing on the vision
Maybe you see now. Maybe you understand the noble cause you should be fulfilling, but you’re not quite sure how to pass that vision on. It starts simply – tell stories and share ideas. You probably have plenty of stories you can share from your past that can serve as examples to your children. Maybe there was the time you thought it would be okay to copy off someone else’s paper in school, and you got caught. That humiliating lesson can serve as a moral compass to your children, showing them the value of doing things the right way, and not taking shortcuts. It also lets your children know that you’re not perfect, you’ve made mistakes, but that you are striving to be better with God’s help. Create a longing in the hearts of your children to live up to God’s standard for them. You don’t have to be heavy-handed for kids to get the message. They’ll understand by the lessons you teach, and the life you demonstrate. You can talk to them about their future – about their future spouse and the qualities to value in that spouse. You can encourage them to treat themselves with value, so that the gift they give to their spouse upon marriage is worthy and sacred. Make sure they see you treating their mother with value, so they can emulate your behavior.
Another thing you can do is listen better. What do your children tell you when they get a chance to open up to you? Is your son talking about his dream to be a veterinarian? Does your daughter mention that she’s thinking of being a teacher? Listening and acknowledging their dreams is one way of fostering a closer relationship, but to be a visionary leader, take it a step further. Take your son to see a veterinarian, arrange for the veterinarian to talk to him about the education he’ll need, what it’s like to be a veterinarian, etc. Encourage your daughter to approach a teacher she especially admires and ask that teacher to share with her things about the teaching profession.
If one of your children expresses an interest to be in the same field you are, so much the better. Invite them to work with you one day, share parts of your day with them. This sort of sharing is invaluable to helping your children build a successful future.
Passing on other traits
Maybe you want your children to learn how not to take their blessings for granted, and to give freely. You could choose to start a new family tradition. Instead of eating too much at Thanksgiving, you could volunteer to serve dinner at the Salvation Army or local shelter. Or you could teach your children the importance of tithing, by having them save the first ten percent of their allowance to give to your church. Show them that you’re doing this. Remember that for everything you tell your family, it is more important to show them. They need to see that you’re “walking the walk”.
Encourage your children to be open with you. What are they thinking? What are they learning about giving by your example? How they can find their own ways to give? You may be surprised that you will learn as much from them as they will from you. Be prepared to be their leader and guide, but also be prepared to get out of their way if necessary. You aren’t supposed to be controlling their lives and molding them in your own way, but helping them to find God’s way for their lives. This continual evaluation of where you’re going and willingness to share it with them will create momentum in the home. You will be setting the ultimate example by choosing to sacrifice your own selfish desires for the good of your family.
Your willingness to sacrifice yourself to the noble cause and gain a new vision for the life of your family will end up sparking action and fueling initiative. You may want to consider coming up with a mission statement, together, as a family, outlining the things that are of most value to you collectively. You will be amazed at the things that can happen if you choose to put God first and let him transform you into a visionary leader in your home.
Christie Smith is a freelance writer and designer living with her husband, two children, two dogs and a cat in Kyle, Texas. You can read more of her work or contact her at:
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