Table of Contents
Also by Patrick Lencioni
Title Page
Copyright Page
The Fable
PART ONE - The Problem
PART TWO - Business School
PART THREE - Trial and Error
The Model
QUESTION #1 - What makes your family unique?
QUESTION #2 - What is your family’s top priority—rallying cry—right now?
QUESTION #3 - How do you talk about and use the answers to these questions?

Also by Patrick Lencioni
Leadership Fables
The Five Temptations of a CEO
The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Death by Meeting
Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars
The Three Signs of a Miserable Job
Field Guide
Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team


For you, Laura, for who you are and what you do for all of us. And for mom and dad, for always putting family first.

I need to start this book with two quick confessions. First, I am not a family counselor or therapist, and I don’t have a Ph.D. in psychology—or anything else for that matter. I’m a management consultant and business author, and more important, a husband and a father of four.
Second, I struggle with many books on family life. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the subject or find them interesting. It’s just that they so often leave me feeling inadequate and overwhelmed by prescribing elaborate systems that can transform my family, as long as my wife and I have four days to invest up front and three hours per week to do follow-up exercises. Which, unfortunately, we don’t.
So what prompted me to write this book?
Well, in my work as a consultant, I have frequently found myself in conversations with my clients about their families. I am happy to report that almost all the executives I’ve met claim that family is more important to them than work. And most of them seem to really mean it.
However, every one of those executives—including the one writing this book—would have to admit that they spend inordinately more time thinking about, strategizing about, and meeting about how to run their companies than they do their families. And yet they complain that life at home is far too reactive, frantic, and unfocused.
Of course, this makes no sense. Why would intelligent, family-oriented people overinvest in their work and fail to manage the most important organizations in their lives? And why wouldn’t they apply any of the tools they use at work to improve the way their families function? I can think of a few reasons.
For one, it might not occur to us that management tools from the workplace can apply at home. We don’t think about our families as organizations, and ourselves as the executives of those organizations. Additionally, I think many of us feel a little awkward, even embarrassed, at the thought of having a “strategic meeting” to talk about family values or strategic priorities. Who does that, anyway?
But more important than all of this, I think we under-manage our families because we take them for granted. Consider this:
Even the least organized among us spends time and energy planning and strategizing about our career, personal finances, and health. Why? Because we all think we might be forced to forfeit those things if we aren’t purposeful and thoughtful about them. If we aren’t proactive about managing our work and our career, we might wind up without a job. If we aren’t strategic about our finances, we could watch our money disappear. And if we aren’t purposeful about our exercise and diet, our health could fail us.
But when it comes to being purposeful, strategic, and proactive in our family life, we don’t really see much risk of loss. Sure, we might have to deal with more stress and exhaustion than we’d like, but it’s not going to threaten the existence of our families. And besides, every other family seems just as frantic as ours. Family chaos is just part of life, and so we accept levels of confusion and disorganization and craziness at home that we would not tolerate at work.
Sadly, it’s not until people actually have to face the possibility of losing their families (through divorce or substance abuse or other serious behavioral problems) that they finally come to realize that a little planning and strategy would have been worthwhile. But by then they’re spending hours and hours in painful discussions or counseling sessions just trying to recover what they’re on the verge of losing. Which reinforces the importance of the old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that families can ever prevent or eliminate chaos and confusion completely from their lives. As long as there are sleepovers and in-laws and book reports and Little League games and proms and college applications and weddings to deal with, we will have unpredictability and craziness in our homes. And that’s a good thing, because complete control—even if it were possible—would not be desirable. Life should be an adventure.
However, if we could achieve a little more sanity in the midst of that adventure, and transform our stressful, reactive, frantic families into more peaceful, proactive, and intentional ones, wouldn’t that be worth doing? I certainly think so.
And that is the purpose of this little book—to help you run your family with more clarity and context and purposefulness by provoking you to answer three simple questions that can change your life. I hope you find my ideas helpful and that your family benefits from them in many ways for years to come.

The Fable

The Problem


Theresa Cousins had never been so mad at her husband, Jude.
Ironically, the comment that sparked her anger wasn’t really directed at her specifically and certainly wasn’t meant as criticism. In fact, he said it without malice or emotion.
If my clients ran their companies the way we run this family, they’d be out of business.
That was it.
But as a full-time stay-at-home mom, Theresa couldn’t help but feel like the target of the comment. Worse yet, she suspected that Jude might be right.


The only sister among three brothers, Theresa Toscana considered herself a little tougher than most of her childhood friends. Receiving a partial scholarship to play volleyball at the University of Notre Dame, she chose mathematics as her major and made extra money by tutoring other athletes who were struggling with their freshman year calculus requirement.
One of those athletes was a tennis player who had a roommate named Jude Cousins, a fellow Californian who wasn’t having much trouble with math but did need occasional advice about women. Even after she finished her tutoring assignment with his roommate, Theresa and Jude found excuses to be around each other. The two became friends, though they never dated.
After graduation, Theresa returned to her family’s home in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she spent two and a half years in what she referred to as “accounting prison,” bored to tears doing tax audits for companies that held no interest for her. So she went back to school to become a junior high school math teacher, something she would come to love.
It was during her first year in graduate school that she also reconnected with Jude.


Having quickly abandoned his aspirations to be a journalist in Chicago, Jude joined the herds of recent college grads moving west to work in high tech. After finding a job with a growing software company, he quickly began climbing the corporate ladder, or more accurately, being pushed up it by an industry on fire.
Living with some college friends in San Francisco, Jude spent many Saturday mornings at a local Irish pub watching Notre Dame football games with fellow alumni. It was there that he saw Theresa, and after watching a disappointing loss, he agreed to have dinner with her at her parents’ house that night.
Within a week, the old friends began dating, and five years later, to the relief of Theresa’s mother, they were finally married.
For the next few years, Jude and Theresa worked hard at their jobs and enjoyed life in the City, eating out with friends and going to movies whenever they wanted. As much fun as that sounded, quietly they were struggling to start a family. Finally, after two and a half years of trying, Theresa became pregnant—with twins.


Almost to the day that they received the doubly overwhelming news from their doctor, Jude decided to leave his high-tech job and start his own consulting firm, working out of the spare bedroom in the couple’s new little suburban home fifteen miles east of the City.
By the time the twins, Emily and Hailey, had their first birthday, Theresa had abandoned any plans for an imminent return to teaching, deciding that two infants would be more than enough work for a while.
And when she had Sophia a few years later, Theresa accepted that her teaching career would have to wait even longer, and that her role as a mother would be more than a full-time job. Besides, Jude’s practice had grown much faster than they could have imagined, which meant he would be home to help less than she might have liked and that they would easily be able to afford their modest lifestyle on only one income.
When Sophia was ready to start preschool, Theresa thought life would slow down and allow her to breathe, and maybe even dive back into teaching part-time. Then along came Michael, born on Theresa’s thirty-eighth birthday.
Just like that, Theresa Cousins found herself resuming a daily regimen that would fill her days and nights for the foreseeable future, with no achievable end in sight. It was more than she had expected, and would take its toll on her over the course of the next couple of years.


As the school year started and Theresa pondered the approach of her fortieth birthday less than four months away (on Christmas Eve), the Cousins family was in various states of full bloom. The twins were almost ten and were just beginning fourth grade, Sophia, nearly six, was entering kindergarten, and Michael, at one and a half, was still two years from preschool. The daily schedule at the Cousins household said it all.
Mondays were relatively easy, with swim practice and piano for the twins after school. Tuesdays were soccer practice for all the girls, which involved Jude coaching Hailey and Emily’s squad, and Theresa helping out with Sophia’s amoeba ball team. Wednesdays were the busiest days, with more swimming and a Girl Scout meeting for the twins, as well as Theresa’s Bible study. Thursdays were Theresa’s day to volunteer in the classroom, and another full soccer day, followed by a Friday that always seemed to involve a sleepover or a birthday party of some kind.
Saturdays were a logistics nightmare involving swim meets and soccer games and household chores, and an occasional recital, all with Michael in tow. Sundays were the calmest day of the week, reserved for church, and at least one soccer game or practice. And more often than not, Jude and Theresa had another family over for dinner or a barbecue, filling their house with no less than six kids, which was noisy but wonderful.
Add to that the daily homework, laundry, house cleaning, diapers, groceries, school board meetings, grandparents’ visits, business trips, and the random illnesses or emotional crises that befall any houseful of four children, and the Cousins family was hanging on for dear life, with Theresa doing most of the hanging.


More and more frequently, Theresa and Jude found themselves engaged in a ritualistic conversation about the need to find sanity in their schedule. Somehow the discussion usually took place in the bathroom while Jude was shaving or brushing his teeth, and would be prompted by Theresa coming in to remind her husband about an unexpected or forgotten item on the schedule that day.
“Don’t forget about the parent-teacher meeting tonight,” or “The twins’ scrimmage in Walnut Creek starts at six-thirty.”
Jude would stop what he was doing, take a deep breath, and announce, “We have to cut back our activities.”
“I would love to,” Theresa would respond sincerely though somewhat hopelessly. “What can we stop doing?”
And then the husband and wife would proceed to review the various activities on their calendar, justifying each one as being important enough to keep doing, or lamenting a commitment that they had already made from which they couldn’t escape.
“Classroom volunteering keeps me involved at school, which I think is important,” Theresa would explain.
Jude would nod his head and ask, “Can’t we take the twins out of piano? What were we thinking when we signed them up for that?”
“Well, we’ve always said that the girls need some sort of music, and they really like it. At least Hailey does, and she won’t do it if Emily doesn’t.”
Jude would gently correct her. “Actually, I think it was you who always said that they need music lessons.”
She would pause, and change the subject. “Maybe we should stop swimming.”
Jude would consider it, for a moment. “But isn’t every one of the girls’ friends in swimming? That’s half their social life right there. And ours, for that matter.”
Theresa would agree and then add, “And I definitely don’t want to stop doing Bible study.”
“Absolutely not,” Jude would affirm. “In fact, I should start going too. I need to figure out how to free up my time on Wednesday mornings.”
Theresa would sigh, “I don’t know what else we can change. Sometimes I just want to move to the country and live like the Waltons.”
Jude would bow his head in a defeated sign of agreement, and then come to life as though he had a sudden brainstorm.
“Here’s an idea.” He’d pause, for effect. “Let’s stop changing Michael’s diapers! That will save us at least an hour a day. Sure, it will be messy, but I think it’ll be worth it.”
Theresa would laugh, and then Jude would look at the little clock in the bathroom. “Ooh, I’m going to be late.”
He’d kiss his wife and hustle out the door with a “See you at soccer!” or “I’ll pick up Sophia from swimming!” or “Remember, I’m out of town tomorrow night so I can’t go to the recital!”
And yet another day of chaos would begin.
Some days Theresa would find herself longing for what her father-in-law annoyingly called a “real job.” But she knew that this would be her full-time vocation for much of the next decade, and she had decided long ago to take it more seriously than any paid position she’d ever had.
Which is probably why the comment her husband was about to make set her hair on fire.


They had just put the last of the kids to bed and were cleaning the kitchen. Theresa mentioned a missed dentist appointment and the fee they’d have to pay as a result. And that prompted Jude’s infamous remark.
“If my clients ran their companies the way we run this family, they’d go out of business.”
Knowing his wife’s passionate nature and her family’s Italian heritage, Jude wouldn’t normally have been surprised by a slightly fiery response to an offhanded comment. But the magnitude of Theresa’s reaction, especially given the absence of any malice on his part, caught him off guard.
After only a brief moment of icy silence, Theresa pounced. “And what is that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. It’s just that—”
She interrupted. “So you think you could do a better job at this, I guess?”
Jude was stunned by the unusually harsh tone in his wife’s voice. “I didn’t say that.”
“But you’d fire me if I were the CEO of one of your companies?”
Jude smiled, a little nervously, and made a weak attempt at a joke. “Well, first of all, they’re not my companies. They’re my clients, so I can’t fire anyone even if—”
“You know what I mean,” she interrupted.
Jude remained calm. “Second, I wasn’t saying that you’re doing a bad job. I’m just saying that everything is always so—”
He hesitated, searching for the right word. “Crazy.”
“And you think that’s my fault?”
Jude shook his head, took a deep breath, and did his best to calm the situation. “Now, wait a second, Theresa.”
It didn’t work.
“No, you wait a second. I bust my butt day after day after day, and you have the gall to compare me to one of your clients?” She didn’t wait for a response. “Let me tell you something, Jude. I don’t have an administrative assistant or a private jet or an expense account or a limo driver. It’s just me and four kids and a husband, all of whom think that everything just gets taken care of magically. Well it doesn’t. It’s hard work and it never stops.”
Jude hesitated, not wanting to further exacerbate the situation. Desperate for relief, he tried humor again. In a playfully sarcastic tone, he corrected his wife. “By the way, none of my clients have private jets.”
At first Theresa looked like she was going to blow again. Until Jude smiled sheepishly and forced her to do the same. For just a moment.
Calming down now, but still upset, Theresa explained. “You know what I mean, Jude. I have never worked harder at anything in my life, and it’s not working. You don’t think that’s hard to hear?”
Now she was on the verge of tears, so Jude chose his words carefully.
“What do you mean, it’s not working? I didn’t mean to put this all on you. I didn’t say ‘if my clients ran their companies the way you ran this family’; I said we.
Theresa shook her head. “Come on. I know we’re partners here, but most of the stuff you’re talking about, the chaos, the stress, has to do with my part of the job. Your part of it is all tidy and neat. You make enough money for us, you come to the big events, you tuck the girls in at night. You’re their knight in shining armor . . . and I’m the warden of the jail.”
“That’s not fair, Theresa. You’re more than a warden.” He paused. “You’re also the cook, the janitor, the bus driver, the—”
Now Theresa hit her husband playfully in the arm, but with some force.
After more than a decade of marriage, Jude knew when to offer an apology, even if he hadn’t meant to do anything wrong. “I’m sorry, Theresa. I should have thought about what I was saying.”
He hesitated for a moment, unsure about whether he should say what he was thinking. “I know life is crazy for you. And I have to tell you, it is for me too. I come home every night, and between work and soccer and homework and everything else my head never seems to stop spinning.” He hesitated again before asking the next question. “But is it really that bad for you?”
Theresa sighed. “It’s not that it’s bad. It’s just overwhelming. And I don’t want to complain, because I realize how blessed I am. It’s just hard right now. I’ll be fine.”
Jude wasn’t quite convinced. “Are you unhappy, though?”
Theresa shook her head and took a breath. “How can I be unhappy? I actually enjoy most of what I’m doing. I’m just frustrated.”
Now Jude was relieved, but a little confused.
Theresa continued without pausing. “I mean, I love picking the girls up from school and talking to them in the minivan on the way home and making Michael laugh when I change his diaper and coaching Sophia in soccer and I wouldn’t even mind the laundry and cleaning if I had time to do it the way I’d like to, but throw it all together and mix in the distractions and the tattling and the surprise visits from relatives and the school politics and everything else and it gets so hurried and overwhelming that I can’t pause long enough to enjoy the moment.”
She finally stopped for a breath, exhausted and emotional just thinking about her life. “And that is the real shame. I’m not enjoying doing things I’ve always wanted to do.”
Jude put his arms around his wife and didn’t say anything for a long ten seconds. Finally he offered, “You know, I bet every other family we know is in the same situation. It’s just part of having a handful of active kids and living in this kind of environment.”
Though her anger at Jude had all but dissipated, Theresa wasn’t ready to let herself off the hook.
She pulled back a little so she could look her husband in the eye. “I don’t think everyone has this problem, Jude. Do you think that the Marshes do? Or the Horans? There is no way that Kelly Horan feels like I do.”
Jude smiled. “I bet you’d be surprised.”
At that moment Theresa decided she was going to find out for herself.


Theresa couldn’t believe she was doing it. For the first time ever, she felt like her crazy Aunt Stella. Theresa was calling Kelly Horan to find out if her life was as out of control as her own.