Ep 160: Does Your Family Need a Code of Excellence?

Episode Summary

Frank Figliuzzi, author of The FBI Way, shares knowledge on effectively instilling values in a family unit. He walks us through creating a code of conduct based on your family’s values, and shares the number one thing everyone gets wrong about consequences.

Show NotesParenting ScriptsInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

Parenting can sometimes feel like it’s never predictable. Even when we think we know our kid, some new interest or personality trait suddenly comes out of left field. Maybe your kid has always been a total carnivore, but this week, all their friends are vegan…so they want to be vegan too! Yesterday, your kid wanted to be a pro basketball player, but today they want to be a painter…tomorrow they’ll tell you they’re destined to be a scientist. It can be dizzying to keep up with your teens as they grow and evolve everyday!

But what about when a kid who’s always happy and smiling suddenly seems tired and disinterested in things? Or when your teen who swore they’d never smoke accidentally leaves a vape in the kitchen? When these kinds of unexpected parenting troubles pop up, it’s hard to adjust and react effectively. It can be incredibly challenging to avoid the urge to panic, and nearly impossible to remain cool and parent through peril.

According to this week’s guest, the secret to handling the ups and downs is to define our values–and stick to them. His name is Frank Figliuzzi and he’ the former assistant director of the FBI, served as FBI chief inspector for sensitive internal inquiries, and is now a national security analyst for NBC news! His new book, The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau’s Code of Excellence, highlights the principles that make the FBI so successful at handling crises and explains how you can apply those same principles when things go awry with your teen.

In the episode, we’re touching on what Frank calls “the seven Cs”, or seven fundamentals that parents can practice to create a harmonious house and handle conflict when it arises. We’re covering the importance of sticking to a code of values, practicing clarity, and enforcing consistent consequences–but not without compassion, credibility and conservancy. 

Finding Your Family’s Code of Values

When we’re using a device and something goes wrong, we check the manual. If we’re cooking and not sure which spices will taste the best, we look at the recipe. In our nation’s legislative and judicial process, we consult our constitution for guidance about what’s best for our citizens. So why shouldn’t parents and teens have a guide that they can refer back to when things feel out of control? In the episode, Frank emphasizes the importance of having a code–the first of the seven Cs– that your family follows and falls back on in times of uncertainty. It’s what the FBI does…and you should try it too!

Sound overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be, says Frank. It can be as simple as promising to always treat each other with respect, or agreeing to always be honest. 

As more things are added to the list, you might even want to write them out to ensure accountability. Frank explains in the episode how his son (now a lawyer, of course), asked if they could all formally sign a contract declaring their families core values! Once you’ve created this code, Frank explains that your family should act as a conservancy–the second of the 7 Cs. This indicates a collective effort, meaning everyone is equally responsible for maintaining this code, including parents.

In order to ensure that everyone abides by the code, Frank believes that consequences (number three of the seven Cs) are super important. Without consequences, the rules tend to fall flat! When someone violates one of the values in your family code–say, being dishonest and lying about finishing their homework–and nothing happens as a result, they’ll just keep on doing it. Soon enough, they won’t feel any need to be honest about anything anymore, since there’s no consequences for dishonesty. But if they can no longer play their XBox as a result of their behavior…they might be more concerned with the truth the next time around. Just like in the FBI, there’s no lying under oath!

The fourth of the seven Cs is clarity, and Frank reminds us that this is of the utmost importance. Even if we have consequences in place, they’re totally useless if they’re unknown! By making sure things are clear, we ensure that teens know consequences before getting themselves into trouble. If they’re aware that they’ll be grounded for coming home after 11:00, they can’t claim they didn’t know, or try to get away with it! Plus, clarity helps to maintain fairness. If everyone is clear on the 11 o’clock curfew, then you’ll have to punish both kids for violating it…even if you tend to be more lenient with one than the other.

These four Cs may outline the basics of creating a code of values, but there are a few more principles Frank recommends that parents follow if they want to keep things on track despite road bumps!

Compassion, Credibility, and Consistency

Ok, so all this talk about consequences might feel a bit authoritative. In our interview, Frank explains that to avoid becoming a tyrant, compassion is key! Frank and I discuss how, when the family is under stress or a kid is experiencing an intense emotional rollercoaster, part of parenting through it is giving kids some wiggle room to fail or mess up. 

Frank explains that when someone is set to face punishment in the FBI, the organization takes into account more than just the transgression at hand. Maybe the offender was under a lot of pressure that day, or expected to handle something outside of their usual scope of responsibility. It’s okay to give teens this same leniency when things aren’t quite going to plan.

It’s not only kids that mess up, it’s parents too. That is why parents need to be transparent and embrace the sixth of the seven Cs: credibility. As Frank and I discuss in the episode, by admitting your own mistakes and taking steps to fix things when you misstep,you show your kids you’re capable of taking credit for your actions. In turn, this makes you more credible as a figure of authority, says Frank.

The last of the seven Cs is consistency–meaning sticking to your code of values, even when things get rough. When you spy the vape your teen left in the kitchen, it’s easy to blow up on them–but if you specified the importance of respecting each other, it might be wise to think about how you can go about the conversation respectfully. On the flipside, having defined honesty as a core value might make it so that your teen is more willing to be open about where they got the vape, how often they’ve been using it and why they decided to get it in the first place.

When it comes down to it, Frank’s seven C’s are about creating a home environment that promotes justice and fairness–while making sure rules are still followed! By defining a code of values and taking the appropriate steps to make sure it sticks, you and your kids might just find the light at the end of whatever tunnel your family is facing.

In the Episode…

There are so many valuable takeaways from this week’s interview with Frank! On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about…

  • How we can persevere through turmoil in our families
  • Why kids have a strong sense of justice
  • When to stop searching for answers and move on
  • What we all can learn from the FBI response to 9/11 and the anthrax attacks
  • How to avoid falling into the trap of bureaucracy with teens

Thanks for listening! I hope our discussion has helped you on your way to creating a stronger, more aligned family team. If you liked this episode don’t forget to share and subscribe. We’ll see you next week.

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

1. Remind your teen they are part of the family “team”: 

“Our family name in this community rests on how you and all of us conduct ourselves. You belong to something greater than just you. You belong, like it or not–you belong to this family and we have a name and it’s up to us to shape that name and our reputation in the community.”

-Frank Figliuzzi

2. Get your teen on board for making rules together:

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3. Practice vulnerability and transparency to bring you and your teen closer:

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4. Follow up on your teen’s promises to fix their mistakes:

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5. When your family is in a crisis, go back to your core values: (1 of 2)

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6. When your family is in a crisis, go back to your core values: (2 of 2)

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7. Back up your discipline with a reminder that the rules aren’t new:

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8. If it’s been awhile since you’ve gone over the curfew rules, give a gentle reminder:

(Members Only)

Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: So talk to me a little bit about the book. The book is The FBI Way, and there’s a ton of stories in here from real FBI situations, things that we’ve all heard about, but we maybe don’t know the behind the scenes stories of what was actually happening. But it’s more than just stories, there’s also a kind of a framework of principles that you’ve laid out that really kind of define what it means to be part of the FBI. Where did all this come from?

Frank: Yeah, happy to talk about it and share what I’ve gleaned from 25 years of experience at the FBI as an agent and ultimately as an assistant director heading up counterintelligence. And, people, I think listening, might be going, “Oh wait a minute now, why does Andy have an FBI agent on? What’s this thing about?”

Frank: And here’s the neat thing that I’ve discovered about the book even as it continues to you know, to get sold and, and people come up and approach me and tell me what their takeaways from the book are.

Frank: So, it started like this. I wanted to share lessons from 25 years of operating under extreme stress, often life and death national security type stress. I wanted to showcase how the FBI operates at that high level and does so at a high degree of excellence.

Frank: They don’t get it right all the time, but they do it under stress and they get it right much of the time and how they get it right is through something called values-based performance, values-based leadership. And that’s this simple notion there is that when you base what you do on values and principles, you often end up with a far better result. And then we’ll talk about why that is. And so my book was an effort to say, look, you don’t need to spend 25 years in the FBI to get these kinds of lessons. I’ve just distilled them down into what I call the seven C’s. As you said, the book is called The FBI Way Inside The Bureau’s Code of Excellence. And you can get the illustrations from pretty neat war stories from my FBI career, all approved by the FBI for publication.

Frank: But each of them illustrates one of these seven C’s. Well, I’m sure we’re going to walk through those, but the really neat thing, Andy is parents have come up to me, right? So the book was really designed for leaders you know, and you think, business leaders, government leaders, people who lead teams, organizations—fantastic. But what I found particularly about where our nation is right now is people are looking for a return to values and looking to say, How do I get through this stressful situation in my life, in my organization, in my family, and even in my nation? And when I have parents coming up to me saying, this was kind of the unexpected consequence of the book. “Hey, we are reading this book as a family. We’ve never sat down and done some of the thinking that you write about in your book, but we’re doing it now. Thank you!” So if I can flip this book into also a family book, a parenting book. Awesome.

Andy: So are these in a particular order and where do the seven C’s come from and Why do we start off with code?

Frank: Yeah, To answer your question, I did spend a lot of time about which of the seven C’s should go in which order, Which chapter in the book. So they are deliberate, and there is no accident that the very first chapter of the book, the first of the seven C’s is something called code. Code, I’m talking about from my experience in the FBI, the way the FBI handles and preserves their internal core values is through their code of conduct. And so you can’t have a code by which you govern your life by things that you will do, things you will never do in understanding of what you stand for and represent. You can’t even start doing that until you identify what your core values are. So the first chapter is about, Hey, here’s how the FBI identifies its core values. Here’s the kind of eight things that the FBI says they stand for.

Frank: And then here’s how they’ve turned that into a code of conduct for everyone in the organization and I’ve had parents come up to me and go, Frank, Do you know we’ve never sat down as a family and deliberately said kind of around the kitchen table this is what we stand for as a family. This is what we are, who we are. And this is what we will never do because it is complete antithetical to what we want to stand for. And it might be really simple things, particularly if its young kids, we’ll never lie to each other, we won’t lie to each other, simple things like that. What do you value? We will treat each other with respect and civility.

Frank: You know, I can remember when my kids were very little, “Hey, we never hit our brother.” Right. Don’t hit your brother. So it may start that simple. But when your kids are progressing into the teen years boy as you know, boy does that get complicated?

Frank: Here are things you will never do. Maybe it’s treating a person of the opposite gender with respect and dignity. Whatever it is. But sit down, whether you’re running a fortune 500 company or you’re running a small family sit down and go through the exercise, What do we stand for? What are our core values and How does that translate to a code of conduct for us?

Andy: And so then what happens when people violate those values?

Frank: Yeah. A great question for all of us, right? And I chose as the second chapter in the book, something called Conservancy.

Andy: That’s right, yeah.

Frank: So, second C is Conservancy. It means that preserving your core values, your code of conduct is a team’s sport. I think so often in companies, in government organizations and even in families, people say, No that’s not my job. I’m not the discipline person in this organization that we’ve got in a company they’ll tell you, oh, we’ve got the ethics people or the lawyers, human resources, or the audit team does that in the company, in a family. You know, if you talk to kids in a family they might go I’m not responsible for preserving any kind of core values in this family, Any discipline comes from mom and dad.

Frank: Well, that may be true, but it’s not the optimal reality. Because the optimal reality is ingraining a concept of Conservancy that every one of us is a steward of this or organization. We belong to something greater than ourselves. And I used to tell my kids they’re growing adults now with kids of their own. But I used to say, “Our family name in this community rests on how you and all of us conduct ourselves. You belong to something greater than just you, you belong, like it or not you belong to this family and we have a name and it’s up to us to shape that name and our reputation in the community. So Conservancy it’s all of us in this together, getting that kind of buy-in is so important from Conservancy, I flip right into the next chapter, which is Clarity.

Frank: And it’s very simple. So many consulting gigs that I do with corporations, People say there’s an unfairness in this corporation about how they do discipline, How they do code preservation because no one has a clue as to what the rules are or what’s going to happen to you if you violate them. So we’re living under kind of a surprise moment around every corner about, Hey, I didn’t know you could get fired or suspended for that. Or I didn’t know, you shouldn’t do this. And I teach this concept, look, everyone should know that what, the rules are and what’s going to happen to them. And in the FBI that takes this shape. Every employee can go quickly, look up on their, on their internal internet for the organization, what the rules are, What might happen, a range of discipline, If you violate them.

Frank: There’s people to call and talk to. There are teachable moments. Clarity takes this form also in the FBI when there are trends and patterns that develop in internal investigations and they’re identified by headquarters every quarter, this kind of teachable moment document comes out. They don’t embarrass anybody. They don’t name anybody it’s generalized, but they go, look, I’m just telling you, we’re seeing the following trend develop. And we just want everybody to know you can’t do this. And if you do this, This might happen to you. Here are the consequences. It’s that kind of clarity that makes people even a family feel like I belong to a fair organization. I may not like all the rules.

Frank: But there’s no surprises. It’s like—

Andy: Ah, yeah. Right.

Frank: You know, with little kids when mom used to turn around in the van, driving the van and look at the backseat and go, don’t make me come back there. Well, it was pretty clear. There was clarity, right? We’re doing something wrong and there are consequences coming if we keep doing it. It’s that clarity that you need to apply throughout your life as a leader and as a parent.

Andy: Yeah and one of those things you talked about earlier about the values, I think a lot of this ties together because then the question becomes how you make your values clear.

Frank: Yeah. It’s the regular in an organization. It’s the regular publication of those. But you know what? I used to do this with my teenagers, and you have to judge your child too. I’ve got a child now who’s grown up to be a lawyer. And he, in fact, he’s a prosecutor. When you identify, Hey, this young man, this young woman is kind of tuned into written rules he gets it.

Frank: You know, there’s nothing wrong with having your kids look at a piece of paper that spells out the simple rules for our family or for you, or what’s expected of you this semester or this season in sport, this first year of college, let’s sit down, let’s write them out. The expectations, that’s clarity, that’s publication. Sometimes my son insisted on signing a contract.

Frank: We saw the lawyer in him pretty early, you know? And we’re like yeah let’s, good. Let’s draft up a contract, you know, often.

Andy: Yeah, yeah.

Frank: That whatever works for the kind of awareness and clarity that’s needed for kids to buy into a concept of values.

Frank: Now you we’ve brought up the issue tangentially. What happens if you violate? So from clarity we go to the next C and that’s Consequences. I think so often as leaders in the corporate and government world, that’s the least favorite part of our job is consequences.

Frank: Boy, I’ve been in that position as a senior leader in the FBI. I even spent some time in leadership, in internal affairs functions. That’s the ugly stuff that is so essential to preserving the institution and the health of it. Well, the same thing happens in a family. You know, it’s not a fun time to say, Hey, no car keys for you for two weeks or no devices for you or you’re not going out tonight with your friends. And here’s why, but kids, people, humans need to see there are consequences to our actions and boy, will they sense if either there’s no consequences after that and they feel threatened, they will test the or the consequences are unfairly doled out. “You treat him better than you treat me.”

Andy: Yeah. Oh right. Even just a little bit.

Frank: They are tuned into that. You’ve got to make it clear and base it on precedent. So consequences, but I’m quick to say, and that’s why the next chapter is where it is. I’m quick to say, if you’re going to have consequences, you better have the next C, which is Compassion. You can’t have one without the other, or you’re going to be viewed as an authoritarian tyrant, right? By the kids, by anybody at the office that you lead. So understand the stress factors. And don’t be this rigid decision maker without gathering all your facts. Why is that so important? It gets down to fairness. If you want people to follow you, if you want your kids to look at you as a role model, you want to be viewed is this fair and equitable person who gathers all the available data. And you know what?

Frank: Sometimes as a parent, we have to say, boy, I wonder if I played a role in my child’s judgment decision here. I wonder if I was unclear or I put them under this stress, Did I play a role here in enabling this bad thing to happen? The FBI does that the FBI requires before you discipline someone and laying out all your paperwork and documentation, you have to say, here are the aggravating factors in this case. And here are the mitigating factors. Here is the stress this employee was under at the time, here’s his past performance record. He’s a superstar employee. This is an aberration. All of that has to get taken into consideration.

Andy: When you do all of that and consider all that, then even if you don’t necessarily get the result that you wanted from the investigation, at least you feel like it was fair. And you feel like that you were considered fully, all the facts were considered. And that’s really important.

Frank: Yeah. Oh yeah. And, but boy, do kids have a sense of justice and fairness in life, right? They are super tuned into it. They need that, they need you to stand for justice and boy, can it have an impact if you say, you know what, I know you’re under particular stress right now. And I think what you did is probably a symptom of that. So let’s talk about that stress before we talk about any discipline that’s going to happen here, tell me what’s going through your head. That means so much into this buy-in of Conservancy and everybody being a part of the greater good of the organization, the family. Look, we talked kind consequences, compassion the next C, And everything builds everything in the book builds up to this moment, which is the chapter on credibility, right?

Frank: Cause everything, we talked about having fairness, compassion, consequences, having the code, having the Conservancy gets to whether you’re not you as a leader, whether it’s a coach of a team, a teacher in a classroom, a parent at home, whether or not you have credibility. And credibility I say in the book isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being passionate for getting it right. Right? And, parents who pretend they’re perfect. They’re not going to get the results they want. Credibility is really about, I try hard to get this right, and be the role model. But when I screw up, when I screw up, I come clean, I admit my mistakes, I’m transparent about what happened. And I’ll be transparent about what we’re going to do to fix it. And parents should emulate that kind of credibility approach and transparency not try to be perfect. Kids respect that.

Frank: And then you should insist on it from your children: “Did you make a mistake?” “Yeah, yeah…” And then you say, “It’s okay, it’s all right. What are you going to do to fix it?” And then follow up. “Well, did you do that this week? Did you do what you said you were going to do to fix it?”

Frank: We got to do the same thing too. That’s what makes for credible people and credible leadership. And I end the book deliberately with a chapter, the last of the seven C’s called consistency. And boy, this has turned out to operate on so many levels. I didn’t know when I wrote this book and we released it in January of 2021, that we’d soon have a massive riot at our capital, That the nation would be, the nation would be as split and polarized as it is. That because I appear frequently on television, people would come up to me in the supermarket and say, Frank, are we ever going to get out of this moment in time?

Frank: This challenging moment? We don’t know what the truth is. We don’t know what’s up or down. And I say this in the FBI, I learned, by the way, this kind of stress happens in families. They’re, you’re going through horrible time. Maybe there’s divorce, maybe there’s serious medical illness, maybe there’s financial stress. And I say this because I learned it in the FBI under our own stresses, Which is that severe time of stress is the last time you’d ever want to abandon your core principles and your code of conduct and try to figure out some other way of doing it. But it’s—here’s the thing. It’s human nature to say, oh my God, this is unprecedented stress. We’ve never, we’ve never lived for this. So there must be since it’s unprecedented and it’s a new thing, that’s staring us in the face, a new threat, a new risk.

Frank: There must be some other way to do it that we’ve never done before. We got to figure out a new way of doing things. This isn’t working. And, and what I say, what I learned in the bureau was I give the example of October, 2001. We had just lived through still working the 9/11 tragedy of the terrorist attack on the United States. And then just days later, we realized someone is sending deadly anthrax in the mail. And we have where I was, I was in a number two position in the Miami field office of the FBI. Wow. We have the first anthrax murder in the history of the United States. Someone mailed anthrax to a corporate office in Broca Ramon, Florida, A man in his sixties was exposed to that, mailing in the office and ultimately passed away a terrible death from anthrax poisoning.

Frank: So here we are, right? We’re under stress to begin with. The nation was attacked on 9/11, just days later, someone now is mailing anthrax to Congress. That capital media organizations, a man has died from anthrax poisoning. We don’t know if we’re under some other terrorist attack or what’s going on, but we know we now have a biological agent being sent in the mail. That’s killed at least one person. And we could look at ourselves and say, “This has never happened before. We’ve never had an anthrax murder. We don’t know!” I was the on scene commander at the building in Boca Ramon. A three story, 60,000 square foot building filled with microscopic anthrax spores. We could have looked at each other and said, “We’ve never done this before. We got to figure out some new way to do our thing! How do we do this!?”

Frank: Right. Here’s what we did instead. We said, and the FBI does this every day. Break it down simple, Is this a crime scene? Yes, it is. Are we very good at crime scenes? Yes we are. Is this,

Andy: I’ve got a couple of those. Yeah

Frank: Just a few!—Is this a hazardous materials scene? Yes. That’s a hazmat scene. Have we been trained? Have we been trained to operate and gather evidence in a hazmat environment? Yes, we have. So what we have is a hazmat crime scene. Yes, we do. Let’s do what we have been trained to do. The same thing needs to happen. This is what I tell people in this supermarket, when they approach me about the country and the stress the country is under, I say, don’t abandon our principles, dance with the one who brought you, as they say, what got us here?

Frank: What got our nation here? What’s been our success? What are our core values? The rule of law? The constitution three equal branches of government, a sense of justice equality. If we stick to those principles.

Frank: And don’t abandon them because, “Oh my God, we’ve never seen this before.” We’ve never seen the country split before.” I say, well, we had a thing called the Civil War. The Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Era.

Frank: We will make it through. We may not look the same. That’s okay. We may morph and change, but stress is not the time to abandon your core principles. In fact, it’s the time to get them out, brush them off and say, this is what we stand for as a nation, as a company, as a family, stick with your core principles and you’ll come out of defensible results at the end of the day.

About Frank Figliuzzi

Frank Figliuzzi is the author of The FBI Way. Frank was the FBI’s Assistant Director for Counterintelligence and served 25 years as a Special Agent. He held senior FBI leadership positions in major American cities and was appointed the FBI’s Chief Inspector by then Director Robert Mueller to oversee sensitive internal inquiries, shooting reviews, and performance audits. As the Bureau’s head of Counterintelligence, Mr. Figliuzzi directed all espionage investigations across the U.S. government. Frank frequently briefed the White House, Congress, and the Attorney General. Mr. Figliuzzi directed an FBI internal disciplinary unit in the Office of Professional Responsibility and adjudicated allegations of serious misconduct against FBI personnel. 

Following his FBI career, Frank became a corporate security executive for a Fortune 10 company and led global Investigations, Insider Threat, Workplace Violence Prevention, and Special Event security for 200,000 employees in 180 countries. In his current role as a National Security Analyst, Frank appears weekly on live television for NBC and MSNBC news and is regular columnist at both. He is a sought-after speaker, panelist and instructor on leadership, violence prevention, risk management, and the external and internal threats facing the United States. 

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