Getting Vertical: From the Iceberg to the Balcony

Finding New Angles and Perspectives

A couple of weeks ago in The Value of Symmetry in Enterprising Families, we were looking at things on a relatively horizontal plane.

This week, I want to take a 90 degree turn and move us to the vertical axis, and see what we can gain by changing the angle and seeing what we can learn when we look at things from a new perspective.

Once again, this is a post inspired by a discussion with colleagues, who were together over a group Zoom call, all trying to learn to serve our family enterprise clients even better.

It’s amazing how often sessions like these get me thinking about ideas in new and useful ways, and I’m glad to have this outlet for them. 

Writing these weekly blogs forces me to think about them in ways that I can explain easily, which often comes in handy later.

 

Iceberg, Straight Ahead!

It’s easy to think of an iceberg as a potential villain.  I’m not going there, but instead to another visual analogy.

I think everyone’s familiar with the part about the visible portion of the iceberg, above the water line, being only about 10% of the entire mass of the entire block.

One colleague in that aforementioned call brought up the idea of having to dive deep into the water to look at a family’s issues from various depths, to try to identify the real root of certain presenting problems.

Of course the things on the surface are easier to see, but then again if everyone could see and agree on all the problems, there would be a lot less work for people like me!

 

The Old Standard “30,000 foot” view

So one way to get vertical is to do a deep dive, but what about the other direction, up?

Many people talk about the view from 30,000 feet, and that can also give you a very different perspective that can be useful in a lot of ways.

As someone who has studied family systems theory, I’m a big fan of the idea of looking at things from outside the system, because it is often so much easier to understand what’s going on when you are not stuck in the middle of it.

It’s a key reason that bringing in an independent outsider can be such a benefit to so many families.

 

The Balcony Is High Enough

But you don’t need to get into a plane or helicopter to begin to get some of the benefit from the new perspective that an overhead view can provide.

In fact, that’s where the balcony comes in.

If you really went way up into the sky, you wouldn’t be able to hear what people are saying or notice the facial reactions of the people anymore, and these are key to understanding what’s going on.

A balcony is just high enough to allow you to see things differently while remaining close enough to stay in touch with the emotional field in the family group.

 

Horizontal Views Are Often Obstructed

There are naturally limits to any analogy, but I think this one still has some juice left in it.  When you’re all on the same horizontal plane, your view of each other is often obstructed

There’s a reason why round tables work better for many kinds of meetings than rectangular ones.

When a family invites someone like me to work with them, one of the things that they get, in addition to my unbiased independence, is the advantage of different perspectives.

So whether I am trying to dig deeper and look under the surface, or going up to the balcony to see how things look from up there, it’s all about trying to get the family to better understand and clarify what’s going one.

 

Shining a Light on What I See

Of course sometimes when I travel to a different plane and notice something new, it can be an interesting task to figure out what to do next.

Most often I try to shine a light on what I’ve seen and share it with the family, if only to verify what I think I’ve found.

But that isn’t always the right thing to do; sometimes I need to process what I’ve seen before sharing.

Either way though, getting vertical by going deep or going up can both be valuable ways to gather important information to help a family move forward.

“What for” Isn’t the Same as “Why”

Be Careful How You Ask Your Questions

In this space I deal with all sorts of topics that all converge around how families can do a better job transitioning their wealth and/or business to the following generations of their family.

So “communication” naturally comes up often, in a variety of different ways.  One of the most important subsets of the whole communication topic is the area of “conversations” that people have.

While written communication is more easily copied, widely disseminated, and preserved, so much of what transpires verbally between people is forever lost into the ether.

But even though spoken words seemingly disappear after they’re spoken, they can leave lasting marks on one’s psyche.

 

“What Questions Should I Ask?”

A big part of our conversations comes down to asking questions, and that makes this area ripe for great discussion for people like me, who like to share our ideas on family topics.

But there are always plenty of subtleties involved in using questions properly, and the quality and content of the response you get will have a lot to do with how you ask your questions.

Some people think this family work is easy, and are under the mistaken belief that having a list of “the right questions” will allow them to effectively facilitate a meeting with a client’s family.

If only it were so easy.  It’s not, but, there are a few things I do want to share that could prove useful.

 

French : “Pourquoi” versus “Pour Quoi”

The idea for this topic actually came from a LinkedIn post from a French-speaking colleague who was sharing thoughts on a recent event for business families that she had attended.

She noted something about asking 3 questions, “Pourquoi, pour quoi, and pour qui” (Why, for what, and for whom).

I’m guessing that some readers can already see where my “A-Ha” came from, noticing the fact that by simply adding a space between the “pour” and the “quoi” of the French version of “Why” gives you a very different question.

I did mention something about “subtleties earlier, didn’t I?

 

Back Down the Same Road Once Again

If some of this is sounding vaguely familiar, we went down some of this same path a couple of months ago in Questioning Someone vs Asking Questions, which delved into a situation where a friend and colleague realized that she needed to readjust her attitude in her own family business, and stop “questioning” people, and begin to “ask questions” instead.

The idea behind looking at the subtle differences between “why” and “what for” (or “for what”) isn’t too dissimilar.

It comes down to emphasis, and in situations where emotions may be running high, tiny tweaks in word choice and tone can make a huge difference to how your question will land with the recipient.

Some people go so far as suggesting that you never use questions that start with “why”.  Let’s look at that for a moment.

 

Why Not Start with Why?

The simplest way for me to relate my feelings on this topic is for me to share one of the biggest keys I learned very early on in my coach training.

It was there that I was taught the importance of listening, but it wasn’t the simple and typical “let people finish, nod along with them, etc.” stuff.  It was listening with an important added qualifier.

The key to being a great coach is the ability to listen without judgement.

Now think about a situation where you are speaking to someone, explaining something that you did.

When the first word coming back is “why”, that often feels like it is carrying at least a small amount of judgement, and sometimes a full load of it.

 

Small Changes Can Become Habits with Practice

So if you simply learn to start your questions with “what” instead of “why”, you may find you get better results.

Personally I’m not all the way there yet myself, but well on my way.

I’ve also taught myself to bite my tongue when the word “help” comes to mind, and replace it with “be a resource” whenever possible. See “The 3 R’s: Finding a ‘Responsive Reliable Resource’” 

And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention one of the first such modifications I made years ago, switching from “Yes, but…!” to “Yes, AND…!”

In retrospect, that was a great place to start, and the cumulative effect of these changes has been beneficial in many of my relationships.

Be Wary of Asymmetry Wherever It Lurks

A subject that’s been coming up in my work a lot recently is the idea of symmetry, and how important it can be for families.

In reality, it’s one of those things that’s more noticeable in its absence; that is, when asymmetry crops up and needs to be dealt with, that’s when it becomes apparent.

Please bear with me as I explain where I’m going this week, because I’m introducing some vocabulary that’s personal to me, meaning that I’m not sharing ideas from others, but my own.

Let’s start with a fact that most people appreciate about a standard family diagram (or genogram), which shows a family drawn as a series of generations, one flowing beneath the other, in succeeding waves down the page.

Because of this, I like to refer to the relationships between generations as “vertical” due to the way they’re portrayed.

 

Moving on to the Horizontal Part

So if the relationships that involve those from one generation to the next are vertical, it then stands to reason that those between siblings, drawn on the diagram along the same line, are those we would label as “horizontal”.

By my understanding, the concept of symmetry involves things being balanced around a central line, like a person’s face, for example.

To be sure, I Googled “symmetry” and happily found this to corroborate my thinking:  

                   “the quality of being made up of exactly similar 

                       parts facing each other or around an axis”

That’s close enough for my standards.

 

But Aren’t All the Siblings Different?

Of course anyone who has siblings or who has children can tell you how different each sibling is, even though they come from the same pair of parents.

The most dangerous kind of asymmetry that I harp on with families is “information asymmetry”, which happens all the time, and is impossible to fully eliminate.

Before we go too much further, I want to recall the Three Circle Model and remind everyone that we can and should look at enterprising families in terms of the three major systems of which they are composed, namely: family, business, and ownership.

 

Family and Business Asymmetry

Every parent is familiar with the concept of trying to treat all their children equally, or as similarly as possible, at least in age appropriate ways.  

We strive to find the right balance and are always trying to make sure things don’t get too far out of whack in the family.

In a business, it’s acceptable to have some hierarchy in your structure, but more often than not, siblings are put into roles that are relatively close in stature, wherever possible.

So if asymmetry shows up naturally and is tolerable in plenty of families and businesses, what’s the big deal?

 

Are We Forgetting Something?

Of course we’ve yet to explore the ownership circle, and this is where the biggest dangers lie.

The whole idea of ownership is already too easily overlooked.  See Ownership: The Forgotten Circle of Family Business

Not only is ownership not discussed enough, but sibling relationships are also not highlighted enough in family business continuity discussions, because everyone prefers to focus on the vertical relationships between the generations instead.

When you think about it, our sibling relationships are almost always the longest lasting relationships of our lives.  

While parents and their offspring are lucky to get 4 or 5 decades together, brothers and sisters typically get 7 or 8.

 

Ownership Information Asymmetry – Red Light Flashing

Having noted that siblings are all a bit different in a family and roles in the business are normally not identical, it’s in the area of ownership that each person’s stake will most likely be identical.

I know that there are plenty of exceptions, but as a general rule, siblings end up with identical stakes in their family’s enterprises, because of a desire for fairness, which is easy to understand.

But because people hold differing roles with respect to the management of the assets, they end up with much different levels of knowledge of what’s going on with everything the family owns.

I regularly see instances of “insiders” versus “outsiders” in sibling groups that can become a huge issue if not addressed.

The onus is on those insiders to do whatever they can to rebalance this information asymmetry, by willingly and openly sharing as much as possible with their siblings.

Over-communicating is almost always better than under-communicating. Please don’t forget that.

Striving for the Right Kind of Ego in a FamBiz

It Can’t Be All About “Me”

When the inspiration for one of these weekly posts comes from an actual coaching session I had with a client from a family business, I really get excited.

Regular readers may recall that I have a penchant for mining for ideas in the land of translations between words in English and other languages, typically French.

So if you’re a fan of those, keep reading because that’s where we’re going this week.

It all began with a misunderstanding on my part, which I quickly realized, and then happily recovered from.

 

Young Rising Generation Leaders

I’ve been fortunate to recently become involved with some local organizations who offer programs to entrepreneurial families who are preparing for eventual intergenerational transitions.

The program I’m part of, as a freelancer, has me coaching some young rising generation family members who are expecting to take on leadership roles in both their business and their family, as the parents eventually hand over the reins in the coming years.

As I said this is local, and in Quebec that typically means that the work is done in French, which thankfully for me, n’est pas un problème.

My French is not 100% perfect, but I’m more than functionally fluent for the job, thanks to five decades of practice. (Merci École St-Rémi)

Management Versus Ownership

So there I was on a Zoom call with “Sandra”, the oldest of three siblings who are preparing to eventually succeed their father, the founder of the business.

Although she’s the oldest, she’s still in her early 20’s, and so they’re still obviously in the early innings of this eventual transition.

Because of her age relative to her siblings, and the position she holds thanks to her seniority working in the business, she’s poised to hold the eventual top role in the running of the company, at least as things stand today.

However, in terms of the ownership of the company, the assumption is that Dad will be looking to make his three offspring equal owners, with one third of the company each.

Take note of the word “equal” there, as it foreshadows where we’re heading.

 

Did I Hear That Right?

As I was trying to impress upon Sandra the difference between her management role and her ownership role, I pointed out that in the business a hierarchical situation is likely warranted, but the ownership reality is actually flat.

As she was replying that she recognized that they would all be “equal” in the ownership, she obviously used the French word, “égaux” (pronounced “AY-go”).

The problem was, in my head, I heard the word “égo”, which is pronounced exactly the same way. I think you can guess what that translates to in English.

So here I was, thinking that she was talking about her ego, rather than the fact that they were equals.

Bang!

 

Calling a Timeout

Wait, stop, sorry, back up!

I asked her to pause to allow me to explain and apologize and thank her for the blog topic.

How the heck could the word “ego”, which feels like it is all about “me”, the individual, be pronounced the same way as the plural for the word equal, which is all about us?

I hope you aren’t expecting me to give you an answer, because I don’t have one. If someone reading this does, perhaps a linguist, please let me know, and in the meantime, I’m just happy to have stumbled upon this.

It feels kind of like an oxy-moron to me.

 

Lessons for Families Working Together

The take-away for me is simply that sharing this story and the reality behind it creates an opportunity to put this subject on the table with family members.

The business can be organized as a hierarchy, the ownership is flat, and the family, well, the family is the family. We are right back to the Three-Circle Model again. (I can’t believe it’s been almost 8 years since I wrote that!)

So each circle has a different structure, and that’s how it usually goes.

That means that the people who are part of more than one circle need to recognize that it’s always important to consider whether they are discussing matters that have to do with the running of the business, or ownership issues, or family matters.

Those differences matter, and must be discussed and made clear. It will allow you to separate “ego” from “equals”.

A Family’s Most Important Project of All

Welcome to another edition of “Steve tries to take a bunch of ideas and spin them into something coherent and useful for enterprising families and those who work with them”.

It should be interesting as I try to weave together the fact that families are very interdependent, that recognizing this is a key to intergenerational success, and that proper guidance on the journey will be of enormous help to them along the way.

These thoughts have all been brewing in my head for a while, stimulated by various recent interactions, and now it’s time to share where I’ve arrived. Thanks for joining me again.

 

Coaching Every Family Member Is Ideal

My favourite gigs with families are the ones where I get to spend both one-on-one coaching time with each family member, and then also participate in their group meetings.

While I’ve noted that in some cases it’s possible for a family to make progress in situations where there’s only one family member who’s sufficiently motivated to seek outside coaching, my best engagements are those where I get to work with everyone, both individually and together.

While recently discussing some cool aspects of coaching in general with another coach colleague, we kicked around the importance of the coach exuding an attitude of “I’ve got your back” and “I’m here for you without any other agenda, unlike most other people in your life”.

You can imagine that this might be a difficult role to play when you work with many of those “other people in your life” as well, and you wouldn’t be wrong either.

 

Serving the Whole Family’s Interests

The keys to doing this well are quite simple, in fact, but please don’t ever forget that simple is not the same as easy.

The first key is for the coach to see themselves as a servant of the entire family, not simply the one who hired them, or the one who pays their bill, but the group as a whole.

And then there’s another key that goes with that, and that’s the fact the to truly serve the family, it’s much easier when that coach is not serving an institution whose logo is on their (the coach’s) business card.

Family members are interdependent, and coaching them on their family journey is a special role with a unique skillset.

In fact, it’s more than just coaching, it’s also a bit of facilitation and lots of guidance.

 

Guidance for the Journey, Not the Destination

The term guidance is one that has grown on me lately, as I’ve re-branded my services and now call myself a Family Legacy Guide.

Part of the appeal is that I want clients to realize the importance of the journey they are on together, as opposed to any particular destination they’re trying to reach.

This is bringing back memories of a piece I wrote in 2018, There Is No Destination, the title of which is the first part of an expression I had recently discovered then, which is completed by “It’s ALL Journey. All. Of. It.”

 

The Individual – Togetherness Dichotomy

When working with various family members I also need to keep in mind the “familiness continuum” that exists, and how each person sees that.

Every member of the family is trying to find the right balance between their own individuality and the togetherness of the group, and that’s also a moving target.

By alternating my interactions from 1-on-1 calls with each of them to meetings with the group, I can stay on top of how this balancing act is evolving.

It’s during the group meetings that I notice issues that I can then take up with them individually.

 

Interdependence and Moving Targets

Most families underestimate their level of interdependence, as well as the importance that learning how to work as an interdependent system will have on their ability to transition their business or wealth to the rising generation of their family.

A few months ago in Planning your Family’s Declaration of Interdependence we looked at the fact that there needs to be a realisation that they are in fact all dependent on each other, in all directions, in order to make true progress.

The family is on a long journey that they are all on together, and so having someone come along with them, at certain strategic stages, can make all the difference in the world.

Just What the Doctor Ordered

This week we’re looking at a subject in a slightly inelegant way.   

Having previously written about a personal MRI story back in 2019, in You Want an X-Ray? I’ve Got an MRI! I have a spark and lead-in.

That event is irrelevant here, except insofar as my having previously written that allows me to introduce my new version of a “family legacy MRI”.

 

Legacy Families Need to Make Some Efforts

The field I work in is populated by professionals who work with families, and we try to help these families not only build wealth, but maintain it over generations, often with a certain “legacy” component.

Many families, as well as most advisors, believe that the amount of financial wealth is the key, and that more wealth will correlate well with how long a family’s wealth will last. 

That makes sense, in theory, but, regular readers know that I have other ideas around this.

As I wrote in 2017 in Is your Continuity Planning “PAL” in Danger? the assets that the family own will likely NOT be sufficient to guarantee the family’s legacy.

In that play on letters, I highlighted this “equation”: 

                                   People   +   Assets   =   Legacy.  

The people are as important as the assets (if not more so).

 

My Version of the Family MRI

So my prescription for what families need is another version of “M.R.I.”, and I hope you aren’t disappointed with the build-up.

In order to increase the chances of creating a family legacy, the family members need to make sure that they have plenty of: 

                         Meaningful, Repeating Interactions

That is my MRI Prescription. 

The rest of this blog post will look at those three components, and then explain why all three elements, the noun and both adjectives, need to be present.

We’ll start with the noun, “interactions” so it flows more logically.

 

Interactions Come in Many Forms

Current technology offers so many ways for people to interact, many of which our forefathers did not have at their disposal. And if our goal is to have meaningful and repeating interactions, the existence of more methods should work in our favour.

We’ve all been affected by the reduction of “in person” meetings this past year, but that won’t last forever.  

In fact, the pandemic has forced us all to adjust and that has resulted in more and more people getting comfortable with various online virtual meetings, including senior generations who may have previously resisted.

Even social media plays a part in this, and that brings up the whole “asynchronous” aspect of interactions that many people might overlook.

I have several professional relationships with colleagues that are “kept fresh” simply by commenting on their LinkedIn and Twitter posts.  

It doesn’t take much of a leap to move this idea into the family space, in fact many families are already there, using a variety of online social platforms to stay in touch.

 

Lather, Rinse, REPEAT!

Let’s move on to making sure our interactions repeat. One of my first rules for holding family meetings is that you don’t let people leave until you have scheduled the next one.

Whether you meet monthly, quarterly, or even annually, getting the next meeting in everyone’s calendar is a must.

Now let’s go back to the technology and note that even if you only have one, big, annual in-person meeting, you can supplement those with other regular get-togethers too.

This isn’t about either/or, it’s all about the both/and.

I barely remember much about any specific childhood family camping trip we took, but I do remember that we would regularly go camping, and those more general recollections still spark fond memories.

 

Thanks for the Memories

Making your repeating interactions meaningful is mostly about creating opportunities that will be fondly remembered as time well spent together.

It’s important to limit the amount of “shop talk” during such times, especially when there are some people present who aren’t privy to the details, and then end up feelings like outsiders. 

Of course it is important to level the information playing field with them, and those efforts need to be repeating too, but that’s not the matter at hand.

I’m talking about meaningful in a family way, and reinforcing the family bonds that will be necessary to maintain the family legacy, which really needs to be about non-business aspects of the family.

Try to maximize opportunities for Meaningful Repeating Interactions for the whole family. 

What family traditions will you reinforce?

It’s not often that I go out on a limb right off the top of these posts, but I suppose coming out against the importance of efficiency could certainly qualify as going against the tide when talking about business.

Of course I don’t typically deal in true business subjects, since my preferred domain is that of family business, where my emphasis is on the family aspects.

Getting things done quickly and efficiently seems like a laudable goal of course, with some notable exceptions.

The main exceptions I’d like to note here are those where you need to bring in the entire wisdom of a group of people, and where it’s important for everyone to feel heard.

Such situations abound in the family circle part of family enterprises, or, said better, enterprising families.


When Finishing Faster Isn’t the Key

I’ve dealt with certain examples of this before, notably in Going FAR? Go TOGETHER, which deals with a scenario involving a group of siblings in the rising generation of their family, preparing to eventually take on leadership roles, both in the business and in the family.

In recent months I’ve been involved in two group processes where I’ve truly embraced the idea of throwing efficiency and speed out the window, with positive results (so far).

The first example took place in a professional organisation I’ve been involved with as a volunteer for the past few years, as part of a committee charged with an important role in putting on our annual conference event.

The second example is ongoing, and has me playing a facilitation and mediation role with a sibling group who share ownership of some legacy assets together.

 

Professional Development “Live Case” Opportunity

In the first case, my role had recently changed from simply being a member of the committee to now leading it. I had the benefit of following in the footsteps of someone who had done a great job before me, but that also gave me big shoes to fill.

There are always challenges in putting on an annual event in the summer but having to make most of the planning decisions months ahead of time, and these are only magnified by the pandemic’s uncertainty as to what will even be possible regarding large groups six months out.

So we definitely had a number of considerations, lots of moving parts, and a general lack of clarity around much of the information we needed to base our decisions upon.

We also on-boarded three new volunteers to the committee, and the admin person from the organisation was also new, and had never been part of our annual event.

 

Learning About How to Be with the Group

There was plenty of pressure on us to come to some final decisions but I resisted the temptation to push for some closure on some items that I knew could and should wait.

It was way more important to make sure we took the time to consider all our options, evaluate a number of ideas, and take advantage of the wisdom of all the members of the committee.

As the head of the group, an important part of my role was to set the right tone and pace for our deliberations. 

Weighing many interdependent considerations and allowing everyone to share their inputs was more important than the somewhat arbitrary deadlines that could have distracted us.

 

Getting a Family to Take Their Time

The practice I got from working with that group set me up nicely for a new client situation where I’ve used some of those lessons to good effect.

This sibling group is getting used to some new realities and are learning to work under a more democratic decision-making framework than they were used to.

That kind of adjustment takes time, not only in terms of minutes and hours spent together, but in the days and weeks that are needed for new realities and understandings to sink in to each person’s thinking.

When you combine that with a severe “information asymmetry” between insiders who’ve always played key roles, and those who have spent their lives on the outside looking in, it’s key to set a pace that allows everyone not only to be a part of the process, but to feel like they’re part of the process, on relatively equal footing.

 

That methodology isn’t the most efficient, but wasn’t it the tortoise who won the race?

On Rules, Relationships, Rebellion, and Respect

Connecting the Dots on all these “R-words”

Regular readers (thanks!) know that my inspirations for these weekly musings are varied and eclectic. I’ve had a number that’ve come from listening to the radio while driving, and this is another of those.

This week I’m delving into something I heard that made me look for a place to pull my car over, so that I could jot down the exact words I heard before I could forget them.

I didn’t have to go that far, because thankfully I hit a long enough red light to grab a pen and piece of paper to get the key words down.

I think you’ll like what I heard, because although the words were relayed in a sports context, they also apply to the world of family enterprises and the relationships therein.

 

Who Makes the Rules?

There’s a search feature on my website that I’m certain I use more than everyone else combined, because after writing hundreds of blogs over the past 8 years or so, there are few topics I haven’t touched on, at least tangentially.

So I searched “rules”, and noted that I had used that word in a blog title just a few months back, see On Rules of Engagement for FamBiz

The rules we’re going to be talking about here are slightly different, because they refer more to how people relate to each other over the years as they work on the details of how they govern the business of owning and managing assets together.

See Who Gets to Decide Who Gets to Decide for more.

 

A Basketball Coaching Relationship

Back to the radio quote. Jack Armstrong is a TV broadcaster on NBA games in Canada, covering mostly the Toronto Raptors.

He also does radio hits a few times a week on various sports radio stations, where he chats with the local radio hosts about goings-on in the world of basketball.

On this day a few weeks ago, he was talking about a team that had recently gone through some turmoil due to a coach who was probably acting a bit too “old school” with some of his key players.

This prompted the quote that I rushed to jot down:

 

Rules without Relationships = Rebellion

 

Rules with Relationships = Respect + Results

 

So that means that the key to making rules work for you, as opposed to against you, is the existence of quality relationships with those you are trying to “rule over”, or even “rule with”.

 

Making Rules for Working with Family

When thinking about rules in a family context, we normally imagine scenarios where parents make the rules for their children.

This is natural and works well enough as long as the children are young enough to accept being “ruled over”, and quickly loses effectiveness as they begin to want to assert more control over their choices.

That life stage rarely lasts as long as the parents would like, forcing them to change how they interact with their offspring as they mature.

When you think about it, it’s all about adapting your relationships to the situation, which need to evolve over time.

When my kids were young teens, it was much easier for me to “make them” do something or “forbid them” from doing something else.

Now that they are young adults, if I would like them to do something, my approach needs to be much different. I have also learned to adjust my expectations accordingly, but that’s a whole other topic!

 

The Need for Self-Control and Autonomy

Family business contexts by their very nature typically involve plenty of situations that have some rules inherent in them, due to the hierarchy in the business.

When you look at other family situations where there is a certain level of financial wealth present, with or without a current operating business, the family rules can be a bit trickier to impose.

As the rising generation family members mature, they have a natural desire and need to exert as much control over their lives as possible.

Too often, their parents resist this and unfortunately tend to revert to ways to use their financial resources as a way to enforce their preferred outcomes.

 

Respect Over Rebellion

If you are a parent who wants to have the respect of your offspring, and you want to avoid the pitfalls of rebellion, the secret is to work on your relationships.

Easier said than done, of course, but therein lies the key.

 

Subtle Changes Make a Huge Difference

The ideas for these posts come from all over the place and from people who hail from many different locations

It shouldn’t be a surprise that in the past year or so, a bunch of them have come from webinars or other virtual settings.

This one comes from a webinar hosted by someone I never met, but whose two guests are both friends of mine, even though I’ve only actually met one of them in person.

It was yet another instance where upon hearing a certain sentence, I immediately jotted it down so that I could properly recall it for use as inspiration here.


Not an African Proverb

One of my favourite posts here over the years, which I also recorded as a video, was If You Want to Go Fast, Go Alone; If You Want to Go Far, Go Together.

The lengthy title there is also an African proverb, which served as my inspiration. This week my inspiration comes from Africa once again, but it was from a story told by Nike Anani, a friend I’ve yet to meet in person, from Nigeria.

Nike was a webinar guest, along with Mitzi Perdue, who I have met, and she was relating an early experience of hers as a member of her family business.

Nike had recently returned home to join the business, after working in the corporate world in the UK.  Her return to a smaller, less professional work environment required some adjustment.

 

Questioning Everything

As she put it, soon after arriving, she began “Questioning everything”.  She elaborated, making it clear that her attitude in those early days was less than ideal, and she was not simply asking questions.

While noticing the self-awareness required to recognize this in retrospect, I also made sure to capture the spirit she was conveying about her feeling of superiority based on her corporate experience, and how she was dismayed by how things were being done in the FamBiz.

With the benefit of some hindsight and added maturity, she now realizes how important it is to ask questions, grounded in genuine curiosity, rather than “questioning” how everything was being done.

 

Different Kinds of Questions

Courtroom drama fans and politics junkies are familiar with many techniques of asking questions that are really more about getting their point across.

When thinking about this I also flash back to days when my own kids were much younger and also employed dubious questioning techniques of each other.

I distinctly recall exchanges including, “What? I was only asking a question!”, to which I’d reply “Yes, I know, but ‘why do you always have to be such an A-hole’ is also ‘Just a question’ too”.

I suppose that in many ways that was in fact a rhetorical question on my part, but I digress.

 

Better Questions Require an Absence of Judgement

I’m pretty sure that if pressed, Nike would admit that most of her “questioning” in those early days was also accompanied by a whole lot of prejudgement, where she had already assumed that she knew better than the person to whom she was addressing her comments.

The best questions, as she now realizes, are founded in true curiosity, and in fact include a complete absence of judgement.

Here I’m addressing not only “prejudgement”, but also any judgement when one hears the answer.  See Judgement, Not Judgement.

One of the first big takeaways from my coaching training is that “listening without judgement” is the first thing you need to practice and train yourself to do to be successful.

 

The Family Governance Angle

As we move to wrap this up, I want to look at this topic from the other angle, i.e. the ones who are on the receiving end of the questions, or the questioning, as the case may be.

Most families have what I call an “information asymmetry”, where there are certain members who are in the know and who control much of the day-to-day activity, and others who act as “interested bystanders” much of the time.

The “bystanders” will often have questions, and the insiders do typically “owe” them answers, in many respects.

Insofar as the insiders are able to provide coherent answers, they will also minimize and forestall the potential for questioning from these other stakeholders.

If the attitude of “how dare you question me” is replaced by one resembling “of course you can ask”, that is a recipe for more harmonious relationships going forward.

No question about it!

Amphibious Guidance for Members of your FamBiz

The Old Family Business / Business Family Debate

Defining the kind of work that I do with members of business families is always a bit tricky for me, so sometimes I like to dive straight into the topic here, hoping I can either enlighten readers, or discover something new for myself.

My clients are either business families or members of such families, and I really don’t do much work with “family businesses”.

I know that may seem almost contradictory, but my focus is on the people and their family above all else, including whatever business they happen to own and run.

 

Not Really a Business Coach

It’s also taken me a while to truly embrace the term “coach” as a descriptor for what I do, but when I finally got my CPCC certification in 2019, it finally seemed to resonate with me and feel real.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m no longer an “advisor” or even a “consultant” to enterprising families and their members, although the former suits me much better than the latter.

The only exception is when I’m asked what I do while going through customs, where “family business consultant” has been my standard reply and it has never elicited much response, which is the ideal result in that situation.

 

So What’s with the Amphibious Stuff?

The idea for labelling the kind of advice and coaching I do as “amphibious” comes from thinking about the origins of many of the people I’ve encountered in this field.

Off the top I’ll admit that the term amphibious here is far from a fantastic metaphor, but I want to explore it anyways, because I think it might be instructive.

A quick search of the word amphibious brings back:

               “relating to, living in, or suited for both land and water”

What I was really going for was the “suited for”, which in my head would also include “at home in”, or even “native to” but instead of “land and water”, my version is “business and family”.

 

The Ambidextrous Triathlete?

Some other ideas that came up while considering this include the term “ambidextrous”, as in “able to use the right and left hands equally well”, which gets at a lot of what I want to convey, but still misses out on part of it.

Many of you know of my love for the Three Circle Model, and since the blog linked here dates back to 2013, you know that this is more than just a recent fling.

So if there are three circles, maybe my two-way amphibian isn’t capturing everything either.  Admittedly, it isn’t.

Maybe there’s something there to be explored later, where Ownership could be the swimming portion of the race, the biking part could be the Business, and the running at the end could represent the Family.

Those who know me will quickly recognize that all of this is quite far from my comfort zone.

 

And the Comfort Zone IS Key

But all kidding aside, the idea of a comfort zone is pretty important, and that’s where the amphibious part resonates.

People who grow up as part of a business family experience life differently form those whose parents have “regular” jobs.

Having grown up in such a family, I’m always comfortable sharing those experiences with clients as I coach them, and they frequently nod as they reflect on similarities to their own context.

We’re all more comfortable relating to realities of families similar to our own.

 

What About “Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone”?

But when working with folks who are part of a legacy family, in order to be part of a process where they make progress, they typically need to get out of their comfort zones, don’t they?

Yes, of course.

In order to do that, it’s always best to recognize all the realities that they’re living within that zone, which is precisely what their amphibious coach will be well placed to do, because they aren’t only comfortable there, they’re also natives.

 

Guidance and “Walking with” my Clients

The ability to “walk with” someone and to “accompany” them on their journey is something I expounded on in Work with Me, Walk with Me.

Yes, they’d typically be able to benefit from working with any skilled coach, no matter the type of family of origin of said coach.

However, if given the opportunity to work with a skilled coach who has a similar lived experience, the potential for a rich relationship goes up tremendously. And I’ll always say “ribbit” to that!