I spend a lot of time comparing businesses to families. From a work-culture perspective, this has always been an accurate and relatable metaphor that I have used to make a point regarding how people should treat and interact with each other. I feel that it is effective simply because it captures the humanity and messiness that is always on display when a group of associates are told to work together towards a desired outcome. No family or organization is exclusively made up of like-minded individuals who think, believe, and act the same way. However, you hope that when times get tough and disasters occur, you can count on those individuals to support you. Just like families should work together because of their common bond, you would hope that businesses and organizations would unite around a common goal and get the job done when necessary. This obviously is a solid “cultural” analogy, but the comparison works in more ways than simple human relations. Let me explain.

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Businesses, like families, are living, breathing organisms that are required to manage a ton of different priorities to be successful. Just like families constantly struggle to balance the economic, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of its members, so too does a business endeavor to find the right balance between making money for its stakeholders, creating a valuable product or service for its customers, and providing a positive workplace that allows its employees to earn a fair wage. In both forums, harmonizing these multiple priorities is a massive concern of leadership, whether that applies to a parent-leader or business-leader. And seasons where everything seems to be completely out of balance are very common. A company can focus so intensely on making money that they neglect the importance of employee engagement and satisfaction, which can devastate operations. Likewise, a family can be obsessed with getting their seven-year-old a Division I soccer scholarship only to find, a decade later, that their teenager has always hated the sport and doesn’t want anything to do with it or her parents. While I have never seen an example of a business or a family being completely successful at maintaining a perfect equilibrium across their priorities, I do know that some are far better at it than others. Here are a few of the commonalities I have seen in both great businesses and great families that helps them to keep all their priorities together.

 Image credit: Cathy Yeulet ©

1. Great businesses and great families have an ultimate vision.

I have long been a fan of Dr. Stephen Covey. One of his most important concepts in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to “begin with the end in mind.” Any journey that doesn’t have some kind of a predetermined destination is nothing more than wandering around. Exceptional families and businesses know where they are going, and a balanced vision provides a compass when life or the operating environment gets disruptive. Tremendous thought and consideration goes into creating their visions, and they generally cover all areas of priority to make certain that the big necessities get taken care of. As stated earlier, a company that is myopically focused on making money without understanding that its employees are the revenue-producers will only do self-harm if time, resources, and attention aren’t spent towards providing security and support for its workforce. The same holds true for a family whose parents are only absorbed in their careers and not fostering relationships with their children. The kids grow up and leave the house with little to no motivation to keep in contact with their parents, and their family unit becomes a shadow of what it should be. These types of situations generally don’t happen when a family or a business works towards a defined vision. I have long believed that these visions are always best displayed in mission statements. Mission statements, when thoughtfully crafted and lived by, are powerful in communicating the vision for businesses and families alike. There is something significant about clearly stating who you are or what you are striving to be and then aligning your actions towards that vision.

2. Great businesses and great families own their reality.

We all know that there are seasons of life when things don't go well, both professionally and personally. Markets shift and the economy can slow down. Parents can get sick and kids can struggle in school. When these things happen, I always marvel at how well stable businesses and families weather their storms and come out stronger in the end. Their secret—which isn’t really a secret—is that they own their reality. They don’t make excuses or fall into victimhood, and they work as hard as they can to make things better. Do they get frustrated and stressed? Absolutely. However, they don’t allow these things to derail them. Ownership allows for a business or family to objectively survey their reality, plan a solution, and more quickly dig out of the hole that they have found themselves in.

 Image credit: Cathy Yeulet ©

3. Great businesses and great families possess energy.

I have often written about how it feels to be in an effective business culture, and have found that awesome families possess the same feeling. There is tremendous energy and enthusiasm that comes from knowing who you are and where you are going. Throughout my life, I have had the great pleasure of working for an exceptional business and belonging to a great family, and my time in both has been anything but drudgery. It feels good to be part of something that is working towards a meaningful vision. It adds to your life rather than takes from it, and it turns you into a better person — something that I would argue is one of the primary purposes of both businesses and families alike.

I think that it is incredibly interesting and important to note that people do not readily make the connection that the things that attribute to healthy businesses can be used to foster healthy families. I have often seen colleagues or employees possess the intelligence and acumen to set a strategy and lead their business units towards almost-impossible stretch goals while simultaneously experiencing tremendous struggles and uncertainty in their families and personal lives. The concepts that lead to success are remarkably similar in both situations, and my hope is that people can understand that the competing priorities of their personal lives can be managed as effectively as they manage their professional lives. Not a single part of either is simple, but it is all very possible.

 Image credit: Cathy Yeulet ©