As transformational leaders who are striving to become more effective leaders in our home, our church, or a team we coach, let’s talk about a tool we can adapt from the business world and use in these same structures and one which we at Transformational Leadership also use. It’s called the theory of constraints that Eliyahu M. Goldratt outlines in his book The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement. I’d encourage you to look at his work for more details about this perspective. Since constraints are a part of all our lives, we need to know to overcome them. 

A Brief Overview 

Some definitions are helpful as we look at constraints that may exist in us as leaders in our family and in our family interactions. The first definition is what we call a bottleneck. That is any resource that can’t handle all the work that’s put on it. It has more demand on it than it does supply. The next definition is a non-bottleneck, which is the opposite of a bottleneck. Its capacity is greater than the demand placed on it. It’s a resource that can handle more demand.  

To remove either the bottleneck, we need to look at dependent events, which simply means that one event can’t take place until another event takes place first. For example, you can’t start up a car until you first place the key in the ignition or, in the cars of today, first have the key in your possession. The second term we have to look at is statistical fluctuation. That is simply the rate of variation from one occurrence of an event to the next occurrence of the same event. For example, while you may drive to work the same way each day, the length of time it takes you to do that will vary depending on such variables as the amount of traffic, the red light sequences, the weather and road conditions, or even perhaps getting pulled over for a ticket. 

Now, when we find a constraint and need to remove the bottleneck, we first have to exploit the bottleneck. That means we exploit it to utilize it as much as possible so that it is utilized to its full capacity. If exploiting the bottleneck doesn’t work or isn’t feasible, the next thing we do is to subordinate the resource by bringing in or utilizing additional, available resources. Then, if that still doesn’t work, we have to elevate the constraint by looking at new, different, outside resources. Once we resolve the constraint we have identified, then we go back to the first step and identify the next biggest constraint or bottleneck.  

Overcoming a Family Constraint 

Now, let’s turn our attention to the family and see how this theory can be applied in a very practical way. As odd as it may seem at first, all of these phenomena are taking place in our families. What could this look like in the sphere of the family unit? Let’s talk about a very common example of constraints in the family. These issues of constraints and bottlenecks could apply to the husband or the wife, the mom or the dad. Let’s use the example that perhaps the mom or the wife is the constraint. Here’s what that might look like. 

The mother is working so hard to keep the house going, to get the bills paid, to keep up with the laundry, and to prepare the meals that she’s just wearing herself out. We identify that as the constraint. To exploit that bottleneck and use her even more would wear her out even further. Once we realize that, we now have to subordinate the non-constraints to the constraint so we can remove the constraint. What might that look like? It might be the husband getting up off the couch and helping around the house. It might be getting the children to do more work around the house instead of focusing so much on their own things. In other words, subordinating the non-constraints means other people step up and help out. 

Then, if those didn’t work, how would we elevate the constraint? What would that look like? It might mean we have to figure out why the wife may not want to let the husband or the kids help. Or, it could be that the children are involved in too many sports or too many harder classes at school. Other activities may have to be laid aside so the wife can get some rest so she isn’t worn out all the time from being overworked, and then the other non-bottlenecks, the non-constraints, could then kick in and help the constraint. Once the constraint with the mom has been removed, then you’re ready to find and address the next biggest family constraint, whatever that might be.  

Overcoming a Church Restraint 

What might that look like in a church? It’s not unusual that in a church that the pastor might be the biggest constraint. He or she is expected to speak one to multiple times on the weekend and during the week. They’re expected to do the funerals and the weddings, to balance the budget, to take all the calls from parishioners, and much more.  

There’s so much that is expected from the pastoral leadership in so many churches. How do you exploit that constraint? First, you get all you can out of the pastor and utilize him or her fully. But in that process, their families often get left out, and they are completely worn out themselves. So you need to subordinate the non-constraints to that bottleneck. Maybe you get some volunteers. Maybe you get some of the staff who may not be quite as busy to take on some of those roles. Maybe you teach, train, and equip others to be able to do the weddings and funerals or the hospital visits.  

Then, if that still doesn’t work, you elevate that constraint. It could be a personal constraint by that leader, by that pastor. He or she may want to keep doing all that, and they may have to figure out how they can learn to lay some of that down and pass it on to others. When they do that, now that constraint is broken, and we move back to step one and identify the next biggest constraint. 

Finding the constraints in any organization, whether we’re talking about a business, a family, or a church, is the first step in resolving them. When we apply this tool to the structures in our lives, we are becoming the kind of transformational leader that helps grow us all into more effective leaders. 

Ford Taylor is a leadership strategist, keynote speaker, and the author of Relactional Leadership. As the Founder of Transformational Leadership, he is known as a man who can solve complex business issues, with straightforward practical solutions, while maintaining his focus on people.