Another Hurdle in Moving to Democratic Decision-Making

As I continue meeting and working with more and more business families, I’m seeing similar issues come up in a lot of different places.

Every family situation is different, of course, but when you’re privileged to work with many of them, there’s always a benefit to using ideas you pick up from one family in service of another.

Many family businesses do well under the leadership of their one, singular, founder, only to experience some rough waters once the next generation takes over.

As I relate these types of stories to families and other folks interested in the subject, I’ve begun to develop certain ways of sharing what I’m seeing, and I’m always happy to work on how I phrase these nuggets of wisdom here in this blog.

From Autocratic to Democratic Rule

While I know that not all founder-led businesses are ruled by autocratic leaders, many are, at least in their early stages.

Even as such businesses evolve from the “one-man-show” to include many more leaders as they grow, there is still usually a pretty clear hierarchy that is either expressly enunciated or at least generally assumed, by everyone both inside and outside the business.

As a family business moves beyond the first generation (G1) to the next, (G2, G3…) that hierarchy can become more blurred and hence much less clear.

Titles like CEO and President are often helpful in keeping things pretty clear to those outside the business, solving a lot of the potential confusion.

Inside, though, where there are often a number of owners of the business, with many from the same generation of related family members (siblings and cousins), an assumed hierarchy often becomes an issue.

Quite often when more than one person owns a business, more democratic rule is expected.

Turning a Problem into a Solution

This question has tripped up its share of family firms and will likely continue to do so.

So how can a family enterprise overcome this challenge? It’s actually pretty simple, but let me remind you that just because something is simple to explain, that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to do.

I’m currently reading a book about the coaching philosophy of John Wooden, the most successful college basketball coach in the history of the sport. Here is a salient quote from Coach Wooden that could be helpful:

                               “I am more interested in 

                                  finding the best way

                              than having my own way”

The key to this actually working is for everyone to adopt this attitude and not be attached to having things their way.

The good news is that you don’t have to give up ever having your way ever again, you only need to learn to do it from time to time. 

Once you learn that other people also have valid and valuable ideas that can be just as good as your own, and often even better, it becomes easier with time to let go of the need to always have things your way.

Make Sure You Do WHAT Is Right

As I’ve heard it said by some wise person who’s name I don’t recall, “WHAT is right, is more important than WHO is right”.

This brings up the importance of learning how to make decisions together, as a group of people, which doesn’t always come naturally to some.

The best advice I can give to any family who wants to work on this is “Practice, practice, practice”.

And then practice some more.

When I’m engaged by a family to work with their rising generation, the first thing I look for is an opportunity for them to work on things where they’ll need to make decisions together, so that they can begin to cultivate this vital ability.

Who Cares Who Gets the Credit

They usually discover that all of them together are much smarter than any of them alone.

As a sharp colleague reminded me recently, “It’s amazing what can be accomplished when you stop caring about who is going to get the credit for it”.

Again, though, while this sounds simple, it’s rarely easy. 

It can be done, though, and those who try it are often surprised that once you get started and see some success, it gets easier with time and practice.

It doesn’t happen by itself and requires a lot of intention.

But isn’t that all part of good leadership?

Too Many Important Subjects Don’t Get Discussed

Everyone is familiar with the old story about pulling a jacket out of a closet and then serendipitously finding a $20 bill in a pocket.

I had a similar experience a few weeks ago, that didn’t involve clothing or money, but I feel even luckier.

I was getting ready to go to a face-to-face meeting with a man from a local business family, and in-person meetings have not been a regular part of my routine lately, so it was kind of cool just because of that.

I don’t usually take many notes when I speak to someone for an initial meeting, because I think it’s important to give them my full attention and not seem like I’m interviewing them (because really they’re the ones who are interviewing me).

But I do need to make a genogram so that I can follow along with who all the people are and how they are related.

Oh, There’s That Old Clipboard

So I dusted off an old clipboard and opened it up to discover some notes from the last live conference I attended, in January 2020.

It was by the Institute for Family Governance in NYC, and there was the one-page brochure and some notes I had taken.

I noticed something at the top of the page that I had written:

            “On everyone’s mind, but on nobody’s agenda. K.G.”

I instantly remembered the quote, but struggled to recall who K.G. was, so I looked at the conference papers and at all of the names of the speakers, but there was nobody whose initials matched.

Finally, it hit me; there was also a half-day, pre-conference session the day before, where the presenter was none other than Kelin Gersick, one of the founders of the field of advising enterprising families.

Now it all made sense, and I could properly credit the quote.

You Are Always On My Mind…

Apologies for the Willie Nelson flashback, but there are some subjects that are always on the minds of people who belong to a business family, and there’s a subset of those thoughts that just don’t ever make it onto an agenda for discussion.

Speaking of flashbacks, I recall a first meeting with “Sally,” a mother of four, who told me “I’ve been thinking about this for 10 years, and talking to my husband about it for 5 years, and now, we are finally going to do something about it”.

I ended up working with their four offspring for about 4 years, and as I share the types of things we worked on together, you’ll understand that while the concerns of such parents are common and widespread, that doesn’t mean that they are easy to put into words and describe.

It’s also not always easy to know where to turn when you do decide, as Sally did, when it’s finally time to do something about it.

It All Boils Down to Family Governance, Again

As I wrote in Instituting Family Governance, Incrementally, the blog post that I wrote immediately after that IFG Conference, families need to make a commitment to doing this work, and to find someone from outside the family to help lead the way.

Nobody just wakes up one day and says, “Today we’re going to start to work on our family governance”.

What is on their minds is typically some worry, about how their offspring are going to get along once their parents are no longer around, at some point long into the future.

Somehow, that idea that’s on their minds needs to make it onto their agenda, and it usually doesn’t happen all at once.

Like Sally, who was thinking about it for 5 years before she even shared those thoughts with her husband, and then it took them another 5 years to start to move

From My Agenda to OUR Agenda

To go from one parent to both is already a huge step, but the bigger step remains, getting the rising generation interested and involved, aligned and engaged.

I worked with the four siblings, every month or so, together and as individuals, and got them used to working together on projects that were important to their family, especially as they approached their eventual intergenerational wealth transition.

It isn’t rocket science, but it doesn’t just happen all by itself either.

Get it on your family’s agenda already.

Spotting Something “Wrong” Is the Easy Part

Every once in a while I see a couple of cases in quick succession that have a common thread, and that makes writing something here each week even easier for me.

As I think about the commonalities, I invariably recall other analogous situations where I’ve been involved in some fashion, and that allows me to paint an even more colourful picture for you.

We’re going to be looking at working with families where it may seem obvious what’s needed, and the temptation for a quick fix is there, but where we need to take a deeper look before reaching for the Band-Aid solution.

OH, Look!  I Found THE Problem

I recently started working with group of three siblings, who’ve been working together successfully for over two decades, having bought the company from their parents years ago.

These people were referred to me by some other local professionals that I know, which is always nice.

After I began the work, I encountered one of the folks responsible for the referral, who shared some of their ideas of what the family needed to do.

Everything they mentioned was perfectly logical and made theoretical sense, and all their ideas and advice were valid.

And, despite all of the positives, most of it is probably useless for the particular situation those siblings are facing at this time.

Spotting “the problem” is the easy part. 

In any family business situation, it’s actually quite easy to find something that could be done more formally or professionally.

Look at What’s Going Well

This made me think about a podcast I hosted a while back where my guest was Ken McCracken, a long time family business advisor from the UK.

Ken talks about the “Natural Advantage” of family business, and I really think he’s on to something, and most of us who work with families would do well to heed his counsel.

(Go Here for The Natural Advantage of Family Business podcast)

The gist of it is that they’ve been doing a lot of things right to get where they are and to have built the business that they are operating. 

Let’s give them credit for that, and not be tempted to run in there like a bull in a china shop because we are so smart and we can see something that we think could be done better.

They also likely already have a pretty good idea of what they could be doing differently, and if they ask for help with that, then fine, work with them to address that. 

But otherwise, try to resist the urge to look smart and point out your bright ideas.

Just Give Me That “Missing Piece”

As an example, I am just about to embark on a new mandate where the patriarch knows full well that he and his family need to work on their family governance, as he prepares to transition the ownership of the business he founded to his three offspring.

He knows that he needs for them to have a shareholders’ agreement, and some basic agreement on family governance (e.g. family charter, family compact, family constitution).

Unfortunately, he also believes that he should be able to simply “purchase” these things from a qualified third party.

Thankfully the members of the rising generation understand that the documents that will bind them are best to be co-created by them, and not delivered from on high from either a consultant or the guy they call Dad.

Simple Solutions Aren’t Sustainable

I want to conclude on another related request I had a few years ago that I wrote about in When Structural Solutions Aren’t Sufficient.

In that case, an overseas colleague was looking for a way to structure the operations of a business being run by two siblings who were not on speaking terms.

Well, sure, I guess that there may be some way for them to structure their company so that they can continue to operate without ever speaking to each other, but…. I really don’t think that’s the best way to address the issue at hand.

Bottom line, if you think you can solve a family dynamics problem with a structural solution, your chances of success are miniscule at best.

But once again, it is tempting to reach for such a quick fix, because it avoids all that messy work that most people want to avoid.

Too bad it doesn’t work.

Are Messages Getting Lost in Translation?

This week I’m on the Family Governance beat once again, having recently attended a webinar on the subject of establishing a Family Council, and it got me thinking of some new ways to talk about the whole subject.

As regular readers know, being based in Montreal, Canada, I work in both of Canada’s official languages, English and French.

Being bilingual offers lots of interesting opportunities, including learning from groups that are outside of your “main” language.

English is my main language, but I do speak French every day as well, and I’m so glad that my parents “forced me” to go to French school all those decades ago.

Etablir un Conseil de Famille ?

A few weeks back, some francophone colleagues had set up an informative webinar to explain how some local enterprising families had set up their Family Council, why they had done so, and how it has been helpful as they plan for their family’s future transitions.

The webinar featured a small panel, including members of two such families to talk about their real lived experiences.  These included a woman in her thirties and a man in his sixties, so they had representation from both a “NowGen” and a “NextGen”.

There were dozens of attendees on the call, which is great because it confirms that families are interested in the idea of family governance in general, and in establishing a Family Council more specifically.

You Can’t Improvise It!

I was nodding along with everything that was being shared by the hosts and guests, glad to know that more families in my local area were interested in this and were now hearing from some folks who are doing the work.

Then I started to hear them use an expression, two or three times, that put a puzzled expression on my face.

               “La gouvernance familiale ne s’improvise pas !”

My French is slightly below 100% fluent, and this now seemed like it was from the part I was less familiar with.

It seemed at first that they were saying that you cannot improvise your family governance, which felt like it made a bit of sense, but in my head it took it way too far.

It’s All About Customization and Evolution

I always preach that you shouldn’t try to go too fast when working on family governance, and that you have to take things one step at a time and see how it goes, and then let things evolve in a logical way and at a pace that works for the family members.

I’ve actually toyed around with analogies that liken the process to “improv”, as in improvisational theater.

When my daughter was younger I signed her up for some Improv classes and ended up liking some of the key ideas, which enhance your creativity, teach you to “go with the flow”, and adopt a “Yes, AND…” mindset.

So to me, family governance, the way I encourage it, is in many ways very much like improv, but these folks were seemingly saying “Nope!”

Professional Driver – Do Not Attempt

Upon further investigation, I’ve since discovered that a better way to think of the translation is that you shouldn’t just make it up on your own.

The idea of an IED came to mind recently, as in “Improvised Explosive Device”, which is a fancy way of naming a “home-made bomb”.

It turned out that both the panelists were talking about the fact that their families had each engaged an outside professional to facilitate their Family Council meetings and to coach all family members around their participation on the Council.

You’ll probably guess correctly that I’m in total agreement with that point.

D.I.Y. – BUT, Not BY Yourselves

You cannot buy family governance, you need to build it yourselves, as I like to say. But that doesn’t mean you have to do it by yourselves, it works best when several family members are involved and the entire process is led by an outsider who knows what they are doing.

That statement about not buying family governance isn’t perfectly true, because there are professionals who’ll try to convince you that you should buy it from them, and some do.

You could go that way and end up with a professional-looking family constitution, but it would of less value than even a preliminary and improvised attempt at creating a family council.

Coaching and Podcasting Combine for Lessons

Ideas for these blog topics come from anywhere and everywhere for me, and often they just seem to combine thoughts from one part of my life with something from a very different sphere.

And so once again I’ll write about how some seemingly random discussions have come together for me in a way that allows me to share ideas that can be useful to families and those who advise them.

Regular readers will likely be familiar with the fact that I’ve done coach training and certification, that I’m a huge fan of the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI), and that I have also been on a number of podcasts, on both sides of the mic.

All of these will come together this week in this piece.

Listening Without Judgement Is Where It Begins

Whenever people ask me about the coaching training that I did years ago with CTI, I almost always end up sharing the importance of listening without judgement, because that’s one of the two main takeaways from that whole training. 

(The other is “being with”, for the record.)

Of course knowing that you need to listen without judgement and being able to actually do it does require a LOT of practice, but that’s a whole other post. 

(Perhaps Skills vs. Knowledge in Family Enterprises?)

Being able to listen to someone speak, while suspending your own personal judgement about what you are hearing, is not as easy as it might sound, and for some people it’s almost impossible.

But if you want to be a resource for people who work with their family members, or who own assets together with their siblings, you won’t get far without that ability.

It’s Much More Than Just Listening

At first I really only thought about the listening aspect, but I had a recent A-Ha moment that put this subject back on my radar.

During one of the recent weekly Tuesday Thought Leader webinars hosted by PPI, the guests were Sandi Bragar and Cammie Doder, who co-host a podcast called Money Tales, where they interview guests about the role that money has played in their lives.

Having been one of their guests, I joined this webinar with added interest.

During the webinar, Sandi noted that it was important not to judge people as you interview them, and I naturally thought to myself “yeah, listening without judgement strikes again”, but then it hit me.

They’re interviewing people, so they aren’t only listening, they’re also asking!

Asking Without Judgement

So many of our conversations contain questions and answers, therefore much of the listening we do comes in response to our questions.

As you work with people with the goal of helping them through situations, you need to ask about a lot of subjects. 

If you want to truly understand someone, which is pretty useful when you are trying to make their lives better in some way, it’s kind of important for you to get their true thoughts.

It should not surprise you that I think that what you ask them, and perhaps even more importantly how you ask them, can be pretty important.

Of course as mentioned last week in Yes, AND… Don’t Neglect the Follow-Through there is no magical “secret list of questions”

And even if there were, you need to know how to ask them (without judgement).

Being Curious for All It’s Worth

The good news is that once you realize how key it is to park your judgement at the door, it actually gets easier with practice.

Engaging and flexing your curiosity muscles can also be a big help, and if you truly want to be a trusted resource to a family, you really should be curious about what makes them tick.

Of course simply being curious doesn’t necessarily force you to ask less judgemental questions, it could actually take you even further in the wrong direction if you get too “inquisitive”.

I’m flashing back to when my kids were young and I can hear my son objecting to my dirty look with “What? I was only asking her a question” after an exchange with his sister.

Judgemental Family Members Are the Norm

It’s actually quite normal for the members of a family to judge each other; many have been doing it for decades.

We can’t expect them to change much after getting so much practice.

And that’s an even better reason why we, as the outsider, need to offer them something different.

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?

This week we’re going to go over some old ground, and cover some things that are brand new to this space.

There’s an “A-Ha Moment” involved, as well as a new way to attack an old problem.  

One thing most regular readers will recognize is that we’re once again visiting the wonderful world of “family governance”.

Never Start with a Constitution

Let’s set up the family governance part off the top.  Back in 2018, in Behind the Flawed Family Constitution we talked about the fact that for some reason, having a “Family Constitution” had become a really cool thing that families thought they needed.

Or at least, there seemed to be renewed interest in such a deliverable, likely caused by some professionals who discovered the idea of possibly selling this idea to their family clients.

I’ve also since met with families who’ve come to believe that a family constitution could be an appropriate thing for their family, and I usually try to get them to back away from the idea, once I realize that they’re still very early in their family governance’s evolution.


Start Small, Let It Evolve

I’ve tried making this point in various ways over the years, with families as well as with other advisors who are a bit newer to the area of getting families they work with on a proper path to governance.

Then recently, form an unexpected place, I got the killer line I think I’ve been looking for to seal the deal.

I was watching a WBECS coaching webinar recently, where David Burkus was talking about working with teams in businesses and other organizations in work situations.

A big part of such teams’ success stems from getting to the point where they understand the value of teamwork. Then he said the magic words.

“I want them to make a Declaration of Interdependence”. 

It hit me right between the eyes.

Why Didn’t I Think of That?

You see, back in 2015, I wrote a blog titled Independently Wealthy VS INTERdependently Wealthy, in which I first shared this notion about families being interdependent.

And, as most of you hopefully already know, in 2019, I published my second book, which happens to bear the title Interdependent Wealth.

But I had never thought about using it in an expression like “Declaration of Interdependence”.  But of course that ends now.  

And a little bit of knowledge of U.S. history also leads to a way to use it in the context of families, especially when they think they might want a family constitution.


A Time Lag of Measured in Years

Even though I’ve lived my whole life in Canada, it’s all been spent within an hour’s drive of the U.S. border, and there’s been a constant American cultural barrage, first over the TV airwaves and more recently over the internet, that most Canadians have become quite used to.

So I know that the U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776.  

I also hear about the U.S. Constitution on a regular basis, especially since I’m kind of a politics junkie.

I admit I had to Google the date of the Constitution, because it’s less well known. It was signed in 1787 and then had to be ratified by the 13 states, which took another few years.


The Family Governance Version

So now, whenever anyone talks about a family adopting a constitution, I’ll ask when they signed their declaration of interdependence.

Now, I need to clarify how I look at this, but it’s certainly not far fetched.

You see, while the U.S. was declaring itself independent from Great Britain in 1776, whether they admitted it to themselves at the time or not, they were simultaneously declaring themselves interdependent with each other.

And that’s the most important part for any family to realize.


Families and Wealth – Intention and Commitment

When I work with a family it’s usually understood that they have twin goals of keeping both their wealth and their family together through the generations.

That work takes some intention and commitment, because, as I love to remind them, that stuff doesn’t just happen all by itself.

This is where all the governance stuff comes in, along with working on engagement, alignment, and clarity.

And while some families will end up with a Family Constitution, eventually, there are more important things to take care of first.

Understanding and accepting that all family members, from all generations, are truly interdependent, is the first key step.

New Perspectives on a Flashback Memory 

In the summer I love being at my cottage, and when here, one of my preferred spots is on my kayak, hoping to spot some bald eagles while paddling around the Chockpish River. 

See: From Upstream to Downstream in the FamBiz

This week I ventured to a part of the river near the first cottage we stayed in here, years ago, and it created a flashback to a memory that part of me prefers to forget.

As I casually related that story to my coach, Melissa, this week, we ended up in some new territory that makes me want to share it here now. 


Just a Trip to the Beach

It was a nice day for a trip to the beach, which, depending on the mode of transport, is either a five-minute drive by car, or a twenty-minute paddle by kayak.

So Mom and our daughter were going to drive and my son and I were going to take the scenic route via the water.

I had one “Walkie-Talkie” and my wife had the other, just in case.

“OK, bye, see you there in a few minutes”.  Not so fast…


Boat Safety Training Comes in Handy

My wife grew up on a river with power boats, and we’ve taken our share of boating courses, many years ago. One part of the training included using a VHF radio to communicate and to signal distress

(The protocols on the water and for aircraft are similar if not identical.)

The Chockpish river is not deep, and in places you can run aground, even in a kayak, but there was another danger lurking beneath the surface.

My preteen son (at the time) got into the small kayak and I pushed mine into deep enough water to get going, and was then going to board (mine is a “sit-on-top” model).

Off we go, except…


Did I Tell You About the Moose?

Our neighbour, Doris, had recently recounted a sad story about a moose who “got stuck in the mud, and died” in the river, because she (the moose) couldn’t get out.

That story came to the forefront of my mind, as I too, began to sink into the mud as I tried to board my kayak.

With my son waiting, “patiently”, for us to depart, Dad kept getting in deeper and deeper. This was NOT going as planned.

Did Doris mention that the moose had a heart attack trying to get out? I wasn’t sure anymore.

I was slowly but surely reaching panic mode.


Asking for Help, Before It Gets Critical

I remembered the Walkie-Talkie, and I remembered my radio training. We’re all familiar with “MayDay” as a distress call, when it’s a matter of life and death.

Fewer people know that there’s another signal to call out, before things get that far, but I knew it was time to use it.

I turned on the Walkie-Talkie and said “Pan Pan”.

           “Pan Pan, I’m stuck in the mud, and I think I need help”

My wife knew that this was not a joke and that I needed help, and she turned around and came back to help.

The rest of the story is thankfully uneventful, because after seeing her, I calmed down, which helped me stop sinking deeper, and I eventually extricated myself, on my own.


Lessons Learned when Stuck in Real Mud

I hope you never get to the point where you’re literally hip deep in the mud, even in shallow water.

  1. Don’t wait until it’s “life and death” before asking for help.
  2. Know how to ask for the right help, and from whom.
  3. Remaining calm will almost always be helpful.
  4. The presence of a helper is beneficial, even if they aren’t the ones who pull you out.


Lessons that Families Can Use

  1. Don’t wait until it’s “life and death” before asking for help.
  2. Know how to ask for the right help, and from whom.
  3. Remaining calm will almost always be helpful.
  4. The presence of a helper is beneficial, even if they aren’t the ones who pull you out.


Did You See What I Did There?

I probably could have made this point without the repetition, but I wanted it to be “in your face”.

Families get “stuck”, and they know things won’t magically solve themselves.

It’s OK to ask for help, you’ll be glad you did.



Send me an email with “Pan Pan” in the subject line, and I’ll offer you two complimentary one-hour coaching sessions.

Preparing for an Important Family Voyage

Regular readers know that I have a certain penchant for metaphors, so this week’s blog post won’t be too much of a surprise.

Having previously shared my frustrations with what people who do my kind of work should call ourselves, (eg. “No Dad, Coaching Is NOT ‘Helping Losers’”) we’re back here once again, if only to demonstrate that we’re no closer to a resolution.

But let’s just say that the word “guidance” has always had a nice ring to it for me, so this week we’ll be talking about the value of a good tour guide.

And since families who own assets together have embarked on a long voyage together, I hope you’ll agree that my metaphor is apt.



“Coaching” Continues to Grow, Including On Me

It has taken me a few years, but the idea of referring to myself as a “coach”, first and foremost, is growing on me all the time. 

It probably has to do with the maturity of the industry and the fact that I recently completed my long delayed coaching certification process.

That process included many interactions with lots of different coaches who ply their talents and expertise is a vast array of fields.

Very few of them specialize in working with families who are either in business together or who own significant assets together.

This really is a niche inside a niche.


A Good Coach Can Help Anyone

It is true that a good coach can help anyone, assuming that person is up for it, and not afraid of doing the work.

There are plenty of examples of coaches who know little about any particular domain who have been able to help their clients make great strides despite the coach’s own lack of experience in their client’s particular field.

Going back to the idea of the coach as a guide, I think you’ll agree that someone who’s familiar with the terrain that the client is coming from, the ability of the coach to “get” the client, and truly understand what they are experiencing, is much greater.

A drawing of a tour guide leading a group

That NYC Tour Guide Knew Her Stuff

Imagine visiting New York for the first time and going for a tour. You get lucky and end up with the most personable and knowledgeable tour guide you could ever have hoped for.

So next year, when you decide to go on an African safari for your vacation, would you try to find that tour guide and ask her to lead that “tour” too?

I wouldn’t think so.

When I shared this metaphor with a colleague recently, she noted that she would never go see a male OB/GYN for the same basic reason.


“OMG! You Understood in Five Minutes”

I’m flashing back to a phone call I got last year from someone who had heard me as a guest on a podcast and who then felt compelled to contact me (that’s ALWAYS nice!).

As she related her situation, where she had recently been promoted over her brother, I noted some of the challenges that I guessed she was now dealing with, and she said “Oh my God, you understood in five minutes what nobody else seems to understand!”

Family members who work together have interdependent relationships that are unlike those of family members who do not, it really is as simple as that.

But as I always say, simple is not the same as easy, in fact, in cases like this, it is anything but easy.


Coaching Is Not Just a Skill

Learning to become a coach is something that just about anyone can do, but as with most such pursuits, there is a lot of “self-selection” bias, meaning that a group of coaches can often feel a bit too homogeneous. 

And while the type of people who are good at coaching can use their skills to be a great resource to just about anyone, there’s something about the “lived experience” that no amount of training can buy.

Some skills translate to any situation, but others are just part of who you are, based on what you’ve lived through.


Context Is Key

The “FamBiz Context” might be one name for it. Yes, every family is unique, and every family member lives it a bit differently.

But in the end, there are plenty of similarities when you look at the relationships in one family and contrast them with those in another.

Always go with the guide who knows the terrain, and the context.