Covey's innovation was to encourage families to do something similar and create a family mission statement. "The goal," he wrote, "is to create a clear, compelling vision of what you and your family are all about." He likened the statement to the flight plan of an airplane. "Good families—even great families—are off track 90 percent of the time," he wrote. What makes them good is they have a clear destination in mind, and they have a flight plan to get there. As a result, when they face the inevitable turbulence and human error, they keep coming back to their plan.
Covey and his wife asked their kids a series of questions, including "What makes you want to come home?" and "What embarrasses you about our family?" Next the kids wrote their own statements. Finally they ended up with their single sentence.
"The mission of our family is to create a nurturing place of faith, order, truth, love, happiness, and relaxation, and to provide opportunity for each individual to become responsibly independent, and effectively interdependent, in order to serve worthy purposes in society."
I had a range of reactions on reading this. On the one hand, I found the whole thing a little corny. It seemed cumbersome, heavy-handed, and a tad humorless. On the other hand, I kinda loved the idea. I'm corny! I also thought Covey's idea captured something inherently true: How can we ask our children to uphold our family's values if we never articulate what those values are?
Around this time my wife, Linda, came home complaining about some branding problem she was having at work. Linda co-founded and runs an organization called Endeavor that supports high-impact entrepreneurs around the world. For years, she worked with branding gurus on Madison Avenue who help the organization identify its central mission and core values. It was a powerful, even emotional, process for everyone.
That's when it hit me: What if we tried something similar with our family? What if we tried to create our own brand, so to speak? Linda pointed out that brands have an external purpose families don't exactly have. We weren't selling running shoes, after all. But brands also have an internal purpose.
Before setting out, I called Jim Collins, author of the mega-bestseller Good to Great. All successful human organizations have a duality to them, Collins told me. They "preserve the core while stimulating progress." A family mission statement is a great way to define what's bedrock to your family, he said.
Collins coached us through the process. We started with the family equivalent of a corporate retreat, a pajama party with our daughters. I made popcorn. My wife brought a flipchart. I had assembled a list of 80 values, from agility to zest, taken from books about psychology, management, and education. We discussed which ones applied to us. Discipline is great, but a core family value? "Question authority"? We might come to regret that.