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Letting Go Suddenly Can Be Difficult

As I was preparing for an upcoming meeting with a couple who have long been leading their family business, I imagined what subjects might arise during our time together.

At the very top of my list, based on some previous discussions I’d had with a some of their offspring a couple of years back, was the idea that at least one of them seemed very resistant to the prospect of “letting go” of their responsibilities in the company.

So I added the idea of switching one’s mindset from letting go to instead think about loosening one’s grip to my blog ideas folder.

Alas, as it turned out during our meeting, this challenge is far from the biggest priority for that family right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less blogworthy!

An Event Versus a Process

One of the mantras I always go back to when working with families is to stop thinking in terms of events that you need to tick off a to-do list, and instead consider the whole process of getting something important done.

Almost every one of my colleagues have said at some point “succession is not an event, it’s a process”.

I personally don’t like to use the word “succession”, and I began phasing it out of my vocabulary even before I became a fan of the TV series.

See Efficient Vs. Effective Continuity Planning, for example

Focusing on continuity, or what you want to remain the same, lends itself almost automatically to thinking more about process than any particular event.

A Transfer Versus a Transition

Staying with the importance of word choice, regular readers will note my preference for talking about the transition of wealth from one generation to the next, as opposed to its transfer.

Watch: Wealth Transfer Vs. Wealth Transition

Once again, though, the idea is the same.

I almost always prefer things to go slowly but surely, as opposed to rushing through something just to get it over with.

So the idea of learning to loosen your grip rather than fighting the push to “just let go” feels like it fits the pattern.

One Small Step at a Time

Part of the problem that some people have with learning to move forward with any change is simply stubbornness.

When faced with someone like that in your family it can be tough to get any movement, especially when you approach them in an “all-or-nothing” way.

If someone is reluctant to allow you to make a bigger place for yourself in the business, I suggest that you don’t simply give up, but rather look for the tiniest place to take on part of someone’s role that they hold a death-grip on.

Small, incremental steps, done without much fanfare or even any discussion, can be a way to start to get someone to loosen that grip.

See Asking for Permission Vs. Asking for Forgiveness

The Beach Versus the Pool

Whenever I think about this subject, I have flashbacks of my Dad, who’s been gone for over a decade and a half.

I some ways we had a non-standard father-son relationship at work, where he was often quick to want to do something big, and I was the one who preferred we take our time and take a more modest approach.

I like to walk into the water at the beach, while he preferred to jump into the deep end of the pool, proverbially speaking.

I think this is a contrast from what you might normally see, where the rising generation want to go quickly and the elders force them to slow things down and not change things too fast.

However, he was very slow and progressive with his retirement, where he started taking a half a day off each week at 55, and then added another half day to that every year, until he got down to one day a week.

An Updated Torch Metaphor?

Let’s close out with a torch metaphor that may not be the one you’re used to hearing.

The expression “passing the torch” is well worn and actually often counterproductive when it comes to family transitions.

I prefer the version where each person has their own torch, and the flames from the elders’ torches are used to ignite those of the members of the rising generation.

This way, everyone can maintain as tight a grip as they want, because it can be dangerous to simply let go of a flaming torch anyway.