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Lisa Earle McLeod: Try 4 family dinners a week

How would you evaluate your parenting? If you’re like most of us, you probably do some things well, and some things not so well.

My husband and I have been parents for two decades. We have two daughters. We haven’t been perfect parents; any more than either of our own parents, or any other parent, is perfect. But there is one thing we did very well; we were strategic about our purpose.

Lots of people offer helpful parenting tips. But just like in business, strategies are more effective if they’re framed under the lens of a larger purpose.

For example, it has been widely documented that successful families, those who raise happy, well-adjusted, productive children, have dinner together several times a week.

Dinner four nights a week is a great goal for someone who wants to be a good parent. If you’re the kind of person who likes goals, you could even create a spreadsheet to chart your progress. Creating a specific goal – in this case, four dinners a week – and implementing the strategy to implement it, will have a positive effect on your family. It’s a worthy endeavor.

Now let’s look at how clarity of purpose makes that same goal – four dinners a week – come to life in an even more powerful way.

Most people want to be more than just a good parent; they want to be exceptional. For most of us, parenting is our biggest chance to change the arc of human history. For me, parenting is a noble endeavor. My husband and I believe that our purpose as parents is to raise future leaders who will make a difference in the world. It might sound hokey, or overly aspirational, but for us, it’s real. Raising future leaders is the purpose that has guided us through the long, sometimes boring, sometimes thrilling, often exhausting 20-year slog that is parenting.

With purpose as our North Star, we set our goal to have dinner together four nights a week. But it’s not just the quantity of the dinners; it’s the quality. If we want to raise leaders, we need to do more than just eat. A dinner where we talk about big issues, where we share ideas about how to make challenging decisions, where we ask our children their opinions about world events, where we talk about the meaning of love, and friendship and world peace – that, my friends, is a dinner with noble purpose.

Using the lens of our purpose – raising future leaders – informs our behavior. We’re more intentional about our conversations, and we’re also more inclined to meet our goal of four dinners. Because it’s not just a strategy; it’s critical to achieving our purpose.

We’re hardly perfect. Sometimes it’s delivery pizza with no meaningful dialogue at all. Sometimes we’ve even argued at the table. But measuring ourselves against our purpose has made us more intentional and created a better environment than we would have otherwise.

I often draw parallels between excellent leadership and excellent parenting. If you don’t have children, think about your own parents, and how the culture they created and the values they lived by shaped you, for better or worse, and in most cases some of both.

Leadership is leadership, no matter what the arena. You don’t have to be perfect to be excellent.