Understanding AND Agreement

One of my guilty pleasures is to look at different words, whose meanings are often confused, and to take the time to analyze the subtleties in their differences. Sometimes the consequences of this confusion are humorous, and other times they can be more dramatic.

As you can guess from the title of this post, today’s words are understanding, (the noun, i.e. “an understanding”) and agreement. The two words jumped of the screen at me yesterday during a PowerPoint presentation, so I quickly took a picture of the slide with my phone, and I knew that I had my weekly blog topic.

The context within which this subject came up was a course I was attending in London, as part of the annual FFI (Family Firm Institute) conference. FFI offers a great education program, and this class was part of the final course in the ACFBA vertification. (Advanced Certificate in Family Business Advising).

One of the first slides used outlined the “Core Issues underlying Problems in the Family Enterprise System”. The line below this title stated, “Lack of Understanding / Agreement on:…” , following a list of subjects, including “where are we going”, “what is important to us”, “who does what”, “who is the boss”, etc.

The class was only 6 hours long, and there were plenty of important things to cover in our group of about 20 students from at least 10 different countries, so I did not even feel we had time to address my penchant for parsing the differing meanings of “understanding” versus “agreement” with the group.

But I have this blog as an outlet, where I can do this at my own pace, so I was alright.

We can take a few examples right from the slide. In a family business, some family members may not have an understanding of where they are going, and that is an issue worth addressing. Other families may understand perfectly well where they are going, but that doesn’t mean that they agree with the direction!

Along the same lines, a family may “understand” full well “who is the boss”, while completely disagreeing on the choice of that person. I hate to think of how often this is true in real life.

The two examples so far may lead one to believe that understanding must always precede agreement. After all, how can you agree on something without first understanding it? In a logical world, this thinking makes perfect sense.

But we are looking at the world of family business, where logic is often absent. The people who inhabit this world are usually so immersed within it, that they do not even realize how illogical it can be, and they operate on a day-to-day basis not even seeing how some things that others take for granted are completely missing.

My point here is that many family businesses will operate for years (or even decades) based upon full agreement on questions about “who is the boss” and “where are we going”, without having even a basic “understanding” about the underlying questions like “why”.

They will agree to go along, without the foggiest notion of where they are going. They may not care, they may not think they will be told the truth, they may not think that their questions will be deemed worthy of a response, or someone may be deliberately misleading them about these answers. (Or they may ALL be clueless).

Yesterday’s course was called “The Professional’s Toolbox”, and was designed to equip us with tools that we can use with enterprising families. We looked at ways to help them figure out “where they are going” and “how they planned to get there”.

And I also wanted to add my observations about the importance of having everyone agree on the answers, but also to understand the answers.

Or was it that it is important to understand the answers, and then agree on them?

In a perfect world, they all understand AND agree. That should be the goal. We want to have both the chicken AND the egg.



Steve Legler “gets” business families.
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.