Whenever I share my personal backstory, I always include the part about going away for a couple of years to do my MBA.

That’s because it was right after my MBA studies and my return to our family enterprise that big changes occurred for me, thanks to our unexpected liquidity event.

See Finding the Liquidity Sweet Spot for your Family

Instead of the steel fabrication business I was expecting to eventually take over, I ended up running our small family office.

The part of my story that typically gets skipped, however, is that before doing my MBA I was quite busy doing lots of MBWA.

During a recent coaching call with a client, he brought up this term, and it conjured up great memories for me, which I’ll share below.

Nothing Wrong with Doing an MBA

Let’s first dispense with a couple of MBA matters. 

Last year in Getting your MBA to Lead your FamBiz – 5 Things to Consider, I shared some thoughts on the potential value of pursuing MBA studies in advance of taking on a greater role in one’s family enterprise.

Looking back now, I regret one key word choice I made, right there in the headline.

I’ve long tried to make the distinction that I “did” my MBA, and I didn’t simply “get” and MBA.

Trust me, in the program I was in, there was a great deal of “doing”.

To me, “getting” an MBA makes it sound like something you grab off a shelf.

My bias is that too many people “get” their MBA, while not enough actually “do” their MBA, but maybe that’s just the boomer in me.

Wandering Back to the MBWA Discussion

When I was in the first 3 years of my career in our business, which I entered right after my undergrad, I quickly determined that the most important thing I was supposed to do was to learn the business.

I had some vaguely defined roles and tasks related to marketing and then scheduling production and reporting contract status to customers, but the main thing I felt I was supposed to do is figure out how everything worked.

Because I had the same name as the founder, along with a “Jr.” appended to the end, there was literally no place I could not go.

I learned a ton doing that, yet felt like I was wasting a lot of time being unproductive. Until, that is, the book In Search of Excellence came out.

When I read it and learned that “Management By Wandering Around” (MBWA) was actually a thing, it was a true Eureka moment for me.

I felt legitimized.

Sibling Partners with Different Styles

Then a few weeks ago, while on a coaching call with one of two siblings who are learning to co-lead the business they’ve recently taken over from their father, the younger one surprised me.

The book I referred to came out early in my career, well before these current clients were even born, and now I was hearing something about “I wish my sibling would learn to do more Managing by Wandering Around, like I do”.

You can imagine the smile this put on my face, as I shared much of what I wrote above.

So let’s close out by looking at what can be gained by adding a bit of MBWA to roles in one’s family enterprise.

See and Be Seen

When you wander around your business, you see a lot of things that you otherwise might not notice if you just sat comfortably in your office.

And not only do you see things and people, people also see you

Connecting with your people is something that often gets overlooked, and the work from home trend that Covid imposed certainly had an impact on this.

Being seen as caring about your people and interacting with them and perhaps even speaking with customers are all important parts of running a business.

Working In the Business and On the Business

Then there’s the part about not only working in your business, but also working on your business

That was the point my client was making regarding their sibling and the responsibility to be overseeing the business and not just doing the job of being one of the cogs.

Wandering around, and managing while doing so, is a way to kind of do both at the same time.

There are opportunities to learn, and also to teach, and more people should probably be doing more of it.

It’s Not as Universal as You Might Think

The inspirations for these weekly missives have come from all sorts of places over the decade I’ve been sharing my perspectives here.

This is surely the first one that comes from writing a blog two years ago, mentioning it to a coaching client recently, and then sharing that experience with my coach afterwards.

So you get to see how the idea has evolved over the years as I’ve continued thinking about this subject.

Let’s start with that old post from 2021, called The Family HUG We’re All Looking For.

“Everyone Wants the Same Three Things”

That blog came on the heels of my teaching a course on Family Governance for the Family Firm Institute. (GEN 502 for the extra curious).

During the capstone webinar that year, one student claimed that all families want the same three things, i.e. Harmony, Unity, and Growth, which I then put into the obvious acronym, HUG.

At the time, I was pretty much in agreement with the fact that these were things that all enterprising families are truly interested in and concerned with.

Yes, they’re all laudable goals, as that post pointed out, but recently I’ve been questioning the universality of that triumvirate. 

Not So Fast! Coaching My Client

Recently during a Zoom call with a coaching client I’ve been working with for a few years now, he mentioned something from a recent blog I’d written.

I’ve gotta say it’s pretty cool to have a client mention something you wrote for a large audience but that spoke to him personally, even though his situation was not in my thoughts when I wrote it.

It was about the post On Evolution, Emergence, and Rebirth.

That blog ended with some thoughts on the fact that nothing lasts forever, and family branches going their separate ways shouldn’t automatically be seen as a failure.

This client has been working on engaging his rising generation in a number of ways, and was now second guessing himself.

Sharing the Experience with my Coach

A few days later as I debriefed this with my coach, I got to go over it again and had a bit of an A-Ha moment about this.

I walked her through the HUG acronym and came out of it with a new perspective.

Sure, every family wants the Harmony, we can pretty much agree on that.

But what about the Unity? Well, it certainly is nice when it occurs naturally, or even requires some encouragement, but is it really something for every family?

And what if pushing the unity too hard starts to weaken the harmony, then what?

Can We Even Agree on Growth?

As I went on, the HUG started to fall apart.

My client is in the fortunate position to have attained a level of wealth where the idea of growing it even more is not really a priority.

It’s hard for many in the 99% to understand this, but after a certain point, more wealth can be tougher to deal with than less.

Back to the HUG scenario though, if you are going for Unity, then you actually need the Growth, because otherwise the family will continue to get bigger and then the wealth better grow too!

Just talking through this made me come away with a fresh take on those in my field who make our living serving such families.

Has the Pendulum Swung Too Far?

A decade ago I was typically lamenting the fact most families were ignoring the “family circle” and only getting professional help on the structural side of their transition planning.

Now I’m beginning to wonder if we’ve gone too far in some cases, to the point where the families feel that they must be working on Unity or else they are wrong or bad.

I’m pretty sure we have not overshot in general, but the idea that there’s something that “all families” want or need must be questioned.

What Makes Sense for THIS Family, Now?

My conclusion for those of us who work with families preparing to transition their wealth to the next generation is to help them consider all the ways they can go about it.

As we get to understand their reality, we can then support them as they evaluate which path makes sense for their particular circumstances.

And, we also need to consider where they are in the arc of time in their transition. If we try to push them down a certain path too early, that can backfire too. Please be careful.

A Good Fit Must Work Both Ways

For people like me who work on the family side of generational wealth transitions, it almost always takes a certain amount of time to develop the trust of the key family members that’s required for the relationship to be durable over time.

See Chemistry Versus Geography in Advising Families

I know that I certainly kiss a lot more proverbial frogs that don’t turn into princesses than those that do, and that’s more about the nature of the game and less about my ability to kiss frogs (I think!)

In a few recent situations where I’ve been exchanging with peers, though, it’s become more apparent than ever that the chemistry that’s required in such relationships actually needs to work in both directions, or else relationships will be mostly short-lived.

He’s Just Not That into You

Unfortunately, there isn’t usually a lot of great feedback that comes along with a “thanks but no thanks” response to a service offering to a family.

I’ve been saying for years that when you want to work with a number of family members, it only takes one of them to not want to work with you to kibosh the whole thing, and that is how it should be.

A family needs to develop consensus for many of the decisions they make, not the least of which involves choosing someone to accompany them on their journey.

Of course early on in one’s career in this field, rejections are harder to take, as each missed opportunity to work with a family not only feels like a personal rejection, but is also a lost opportunity to learn.

How Much Do I Want This Client?

I was recently on a peer call with many seasoned professionals and we got to talking about a specific case that one of them had been referred into.

He asked about whether and how he should respond after he learned that the family wanted to put out a request for proposals for the opportunity to work with them.

I suggested to him that based on his less than bubbly level of excitement in sharing the details of the case, it seemed like he was still far from the point of certainty that even wanted to work with this family.

He then admitted that his motivation was quite low, and I suspect he will not submit a proposal to them.

As a senior, self-employed professional, it’s relatively easy for him to make that call and move on.

When Your Employer Chooses the Clients

Of course not all situations are so simple and clear. I recently spent some time with a friend and peer who works for an organisation that serves dozens of families.

There are of course many advantages to having a regular job as an employee (many of which make solopreneurs like me jealous) but the ability to be choosy about which families you work with is not one of them.

If the situation turns into one where the coach feels forced to continue working with a family because their employer insists on it, in order to retain some sort of profitable business relationship, I hope you can see that this can quickly become sub-optimal.

Ideally there will be some flexibility built into such relationships with client families, because even if they have a fantastic person on staff who’s great at working with families, not every family will be a good fit over the long term.

Untangling the Business Relationship from the Family Needs

I’ve long maintained that serving families on the “family side” of things can be very tricky if it is being done via any institution that has an important business relationship with any enterprise that the family owns.

I know a number of colleagues who began “family circle” work while employed by such firms, because it’s a no-brainer for the company to want to serve families in order to keep and deepen their business relationship.

But most of the really good professionals who enjoy this work end up quickly reaching the limits of being able to serve their families properly under such an arrangement.

Nothing Lasts Forever

This work is difficult and not for everyone. 

That applies to the families themselves as well as those who work with them on family governance matters

Ideally both the family and the advisor are able to have a free choice when it comes to how long the relationship will last.

Colleagues in Search of Articles

I recently received an email from a colleague asking me if I’d come across a seminal article on the challenges of including spouses in a family business.

I replied that I didn’t know of such an article (although I’m sure that some exist out there), and thanked him for the blog idea.

This is a subject that families ask about often, and yet I haven’t really written much about it over the years.

Let’s change that now, fully recognizing that a 750-word blog post will never qualify as “seminal”, and that’s OK too.

I hope the thoughts I share here are useful nonetheless.

It’s Less About “Yes or No”, More About “How and When”

Let’s settle a couple of matters right off the bat: There is no correct answer that applies to all families and businesses, so it’s rarely a question that has a yes or no answer, and more about how and when we should consider including them.

This may take a while to sink in for some, because an attitude of “it’s none of their business” may exist and be difficult to overcome. (Thanks to my wife for that perspective!)

When we think about the business itself, the basic starting point is that anyone who marries in to the family that owns the business, begins as an outsider.

As they marry in to the family, do they also marry in to the family’s business? 

That’s a loaded question, of course, and it does not have a “one-size-fits-all” answer, as noted.

If a Rule Applies to One, It Applies to All

To me there’s an obvious place to start, and that’s to say that if and when a family begins to create their own rules on how to answer this, whatever rule is made must apply equally to everyone.

So if I am going to insist that my wife be allowed to attend a certain meeting about family stuff as it relates to the business, then I cannot tell my sister that her husband isn’t invited.

Guidelines or rules need to be made in logical ways that are clear and simple to determine, so that even a child could be brought in to impartially determine if someone is eligible or not.

Not One-Time Decision; Inclusion vs. Exclusion

The next key point is to admit that whatever decision is made about involving in-laws absolutely needs to be subject to continued evaluation and review.

Rewind the clock or calendar, when none of the rising generation had spouses, and there’s your baseline, i.e. there are no outsiders involved because they don’t exist yet.

Fast forward a few decades, to where they do exist, and also have their own offspring who are involved, either as employees and/or owners, and now it’s hard to maintain that hard and fast rule that the married-in people have no place.

At some point, during the life stage of the family, the business, and whatever attempt is being made to establish family governance, it becomes important to consider how including these people makes more sense than excluding them.

Human Capital and an Abundance Mentality

Let’s now look at a couple of other ideas, one of which I talk about often, and a newish one.

The people in a family can (and should) be viewed in terms of their human capital, i.e. they each bring something to the family, and the family should rightfully be concerned with each person and how the family can support their ability to flourish as a human.

And if a family is fortunate enough to own and manage a successful enterprise, then finding ways to spread those benefits to all family members can hopefully also happen, for the benefit of the entire family, including those who marry in to the family (and presumably add more family members through procreation).

An abundance mentality is helpful here.

Back to Evolution and Emergence

The decisions around including people needs to constantly be revisited over the years, decades, and generations of the family’s life cycle.

And because it’s difficult to undo something that has been done, families should proceed slowly, because like adding salt to your soup or sugar to your coffee, once it’s in there, it’s hard to get it out.

Think back to last week’s post, On Evolution, Emergence, and Rebirth and how we need to let things emerge, and then consider if and how they deserve a place in what is evolving, as your family governance takes shape.

Some New Thoughts on Old Ideas

This week I want to look at some ideas I’ve written about here over the years, and share some of the new ways I’ve begun to think about them more recently.

I just attended the annual FFI Conference in NYC, where my thoughts are always stimulated, as I get to gather and absorb the latest from many of the standouts in the field of family enterprise.

It was during the opening keynote that the seed for this blog was planted, when the speaker talked about how so often we need to sit back and see what emerges.

Hmmm, I thought; I often talk about how things need to evolve, but he’s talking about emergence. How are they similar and how are they different?

That question is where we’ll begin, but then later we’ll look at the idea of rebirth, which emerged in my mind after a fantastic breakout session the following day. (See what I did there?)

Evolution Vs Emergence – Compare and Contrast

Long time readers (thanks!) are familiar with the fact that I love to talk about evolution whenever the subject turns to family governance.

See The Evolution of Family Governance

I believe that the best and most sustainable governance is co-created and built very slowly over time. 

I always suggest this approach, because so many people need time to understand and accept whatever processes and structures they are putting together to govern the way their family relates to their business.

See From Understanding to Agreement, Via Acceptance

What I had not considered until now is how and where the idea of emergence fits into this long process.

While this is still relatively new thinking in my head, my initial view is that there are small ideas that emerge during this evolution, and then each of those needs to be looked at on its own.

Some of the things that emerge, perhaps as a suggestion, will turn out to be less than ideal, and then they should be discarded.

Other ideas will emerge, and seem useful, may become championed by some family members, and then could become part of how things evolve positively going forward.

Dealing with the Little Ideas that Emerge

That whole process of figuring out how to deal with the little ideas that emerge during the longer arc of evolution, becomes the day-to-day aspect of making sure that the governance being built will be “fit-for-purpose” for that particular family.

See Making your Transition Plans “Fit for Purpose” from last week.

Suggestions are mentioned, debated, and perhaps tried out. Some will stick, and likely get modified and improved over time, while others will prove to be unusable or detrimental, and will be discontinued.

Thus little things that emerge become, or not, part of the overall evolution of how the family decides how to be together.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Switching timeframes now, there was another great session at the conference, called When It’s Time to Part Ways.

I typically search out the breakout sessions that deal with subjects we don’t talk about enough in our field, and this one fit the bill.

So many sessions treat finding better ways to make sure that we can support families we work with as they attempt to transition their family’s assets to the next generation, all while preserving family togetherness.

Many times, however, a family will be at the logical end of its ability to do this for one more generation, and trying to find a way to part ways amicably becomes an interesting and important option to look at.

Rebirth – Success After “Failure”?

During audience discussion at that session, it became clear that the most common reason this rarely gets pursued by families (and their advisors) is that it feels like a failure if the family is unable to keep its business or wealth under broad family ownership through their next generational transition.

But often by the time they do get there, they wish they’d done it ten years earlier!

As advisors, we need to have the courage to put such ideas on the table, showing families that it is not a failure, and actually becomes an opportunity for rebirth.

If wealth is separated after family members part ways, new ideas will surely emerge in various family branches.

The really good ones that emerge will continue to evolve in positive ways, and the whole family will hopefully have avoided a situation where family relationships have been irreparably harmed.

Isn’t that a success?

Just What Are You Trying to Achieve?

The subjects I cover in this space typically have something to do with families who’ve accumulated a certain level of wealth, who eventually get to the stage where transitioning that wealth to the next generation has become a priority.

When I work with such families, it’s always simpler when they’re still early in their journey, because when they start fresh, I can guide them through some of the important considerations that I know will become pertinent down the road.

Oftentimes they’ll have already begun with some of the legal and structural preparations that other professionals have suggested in good faith, but that end up causing issues on the human and relationship side of the family’s reality.

All of this preamble is designed to set up a look at making sure that a family’s transition plans are actually “fit for purpose”.

Consumer Protection Origins in the UK

The term “fit for purpose” is one I’ve heard off and on in recent years and at some point I noted it as a possible blog topic.

As I dusted it off recently, I decided to do some quick research and found that its origins are based in the UK, and derive from consumer protection laws.


That is, if a product is deemed to not be “fit for purpose” the purchaser can return it for a refund.

The term later got renewed life in a political context when an opposition party stated that someone or something in the government was not “fit for purpose”, and when that story got legs, the term became part of the lexicon.

So why am I bringing this up in a family wealth transition blog? I’m glad you asked.

Asking Some Basic Questions Is Key

When we attempt to determine if anything is “fit for purpose”, the first question that begs is “what is the purpose?”

Getting back to the general topic of planning for a transition of wealth, such plans are typically supposed to tick a number of proverbial boxes, i.e. they have multiple purposes.

Having both the wealth AND the family relationships survive the next generational transition are usually among the goals families have.

But because relationships are nebulous and hard to define, this can play second fiddle to other purposes that are more easily quantified, like, oh, maybe, saving taxes?

Most clients’ heads will nod when presented with an iron clad plan that guarantees that they’ll owe less taxes, without getting into the details of the side effects of such plans that may impinge the family relations purpose noted above.

Doing Things “On Purpose”

If we think back to our childhood, our first exposure to the word “purpose” was likely in the context of a sibling interaction where someone got hurt and then blamed the other.

“He did it on purpose”, you may have exclaimed to the nearest parent.

“No, it was an accident”, the other would say, in their defence.

So here we have our first nugget, one “opposite” of doing things on purpose is getting something haphazard, i.e. by accident.

As long as we’re looking at expressions that contain words about purpose, regular readers already know my love for the Purposeful Planning Institute and the great community I belong to thanks to that group.

For All Intents and Purposes

The word “intent” gets combined with purpose in the expression “for all intents and purposes”.

Families I work with need to be very intentional about how they make sure that their relationships will remain strong.

“Things don’t just happen by themselves”, I often tell them. This takes work and families need to be very intentional.

Getting back to “fit for purpose”, my intention here is to make sure that families make the effort to consider how their plans to transition their wealth are going to impact their family relationships.

Very Fit for One Purpose, Unfit for Others

Too often, some of the decisions families are advised to make for one purpose, like saving taxes or making sure that access to the wealth is severely limited, end up creating undesirable side effects.

I try to make sure families think through their choices so as to avoid those shortcomings.

Openly sharing the purpose of what the family is trying to achieve is also a big part of how families succeed, because that transparency is part of the solution too.

Continually asking “what are we trying to accomplish” never hurts.

There Are Different Ways to Take a New Look

LinkedIn is head and shoulders above all other social platforms for professionals, and I’ve found plenty of great content there over the years, not to mention the wonderful connections I’ve been able to make and nurture there.

This week’s post was prompted by something I saw there recently, and even though the majority of my network on LnkdN is connected to the world of family wealth transitions, this particular piece came from a local colleague whose professional life is very much elsewhere.

This friend had recently experienced a sudden and unexpected career disruption, after which he took some time away to think about how he wanted to come back fresh for a restart.

I was so pleased to see that he shared a quote from Leonardo DaVinci on the experience of stepping back and taking a fresh look at his life and career thanks to this experience, and I know that I can use it as fodder for some ways to look at my work with families.

Back to Some Translation Issues

Setting out to write about this topic this week, I hadn’t realized that I was going to once again run into an issue around translation, which is something we looked at last week.

See: On Coaching, Parenting, and Sub-Optimal Translations

But because the LinkedIn post in question was in French, I’m writing this in English, and I’m pretty sure the original quote from DaVinci was in Italian, I’ll need to take a bit of editorial licence here.

(Despite some attempts via Google, I wasn’t able to locate a direct English translation.)

Here’s my quick version of what he posted:

“Take a step back, and the problem looks smaller. And in one glance you’ll have a better view of the full picture, and a lack of harmony or proportion will be easier to see”   – Leonardo DaVinci.

Planning to Transition your Family Wealth

This is the point where I now switch from the inspiration for the post to the message for families whose main challenge is transitioning their wealth from the current generation to the next.

These families have many potential resources available to support and guide them on this journey, yet the hard work cannot be farmed out to outside professionals.

The idea of stepping back and looking at the problem differently is definitely something we can suggest as a worthwhile action.

Because I also understand the context of my colleague’s recent challenge, I also know that his “step back” was not just a simple one.

I know for a fact that he included both time and space in his reflection.

Time Away to Clear your Head

His efforts involved taking several weeks off and travelling across an ocean.  He was also able to spend a good deal of family time with those most important to him, and get his mind away from what had been his usual work grind.

Many family leaders employ similar methods, such as getting away and taking longer and longer vacations (and weekends) over their final years of working in their business, to allow those on their way up more opportunities to take on leadership roles.

That works well in many cases and isn’t anything new, but I’m talking about more than that here.

Clearing your head completely and beginning to think about “working ON the business” as opposed to “working IN the business” is a bigger step.

Being able to see the picture more fully, including where there’s a “lack of harmony” can take a bit longer and require more effort.

Add an Outsider to the System

In many ways what I’m getting at is that this requires a fresh perspective, which can really only occur after some kind of a break, either in time or space.

Getting away from being in the middle of something is needed to be able to look at things from the outside.

Having someone along who is also an outsider to the system can also be useful, because they will automatically have a different viewpoint, as well as way less “baggage”.

When you’re constantly surrounded by the same people who all look at things the same way, you can get caught in the tough space of “group think”.

Getting away in both time and space, and bringing in a coach who is there for you on your journey, are great ways to make a fresh start.

Getting the Exact Meaning Can Be Tough

Because I consider myself a bit of a wordsmith, I usually strive to be very precise with my choice of words.

I also admire those who take the time to ensure they use the right words during conversations, and I actually pointed out my appreciation to a colleague recently, as we were discussing something delicate.

And as regular readers are aware, I sometimes work in French and speak it daily, which allows me to play with the meanings of words in two languages.

This sometimes brings up situations where the most accurate word I want to use happens to exist only in the other language.

It actually happened to me earlier today on a Zoom call, but luckily enough the person with whom I was speaking was another Montrealer, so even though our conversation was in English, he understood me when I slipped into French to find “le mot juste” in a sentence.

I’ve Never Loved the Term “Coaching”

A few weeks back in Education as a Prescription for Discomfort I teased the fact that I’d soon be writing another “bilingualism-inspired” post, so here we are.

In some ways it’s been a long time coming, because as someone who trained as a coach and with a coaching certification, I’ve long lamented the fact that the term coaching doesn’t resonate well in many cases.

See No, Dad, Coaching Isn’t “Helping Losers”.

As it turns out, coaching is also something that my wife does a lot of as well in her work, although she deals with very different situations than I do.

But recently she was working on something and was trying to find the right word to describe what her team does, and even though she had the perfect word in French, she couldn’t seem to find the corresponding English word that conveys it properly.

“How do you say ‘accompagnement’ in English?”, she asked.

“You don’t”, I replied. “Accompaniment isn’t a word”.

“It’s too bad”, I continued, “because it’s so much clearer than the word “coaching” for what we both do”.

(As it turns out, it is a word, but the main definition is about music, so it isn’t helpful.  We could also get into wine pairings, but that doesn’t really apply here either).

Work with Me, Walk with Me

When I did my training to become a coach, one of the two fundamental takeaways was the we need to learn to “be with” the person we are coaching. (The other is listening without judgement).

Later while doing some conflict resolution training, I began to like the term “walk with”, because it speaks to both the “being with” and the journey that people take.

See Work with Me, Walk with Me

Being with someone and joining them on a journey are so important, but so is our motivation and attitude.

I sometimes refer to myself as a guide, because that also conveys the journey and the role I play.

I need to be there with you and for you, and be looking out for your interests, not mine. So when I coach someone, I accompany them on their journey.

But for “Parenting” It’s the Other Way Around

Lest you think that finding the right word is only a problem in English, let’s now turn to a word that really doesn’t translate well in the other direction.

Thanks to one of my mentors, Denise, for pointing this one out to me.

She does most of her work in French, and she laments the fact that there really isn’t a good French word for “parenting”.

(Google gives us “parentalité” but that’s not a word that anyone ever uses).

I can understand her frustration because poor parenting is a huge cause for many of the issues faced later on in life, especially in the context of a family that is expected to continue to own and manage assets together, even after their parents are gone.

Parents as Coaches?

As we think about coaching and parenting, we can naturally consider how they can be interrelated.

The key to being more of a coach to our offspring lies in the fact that once they are grown adults, we need to foster an adult-to-adult relationship.

The part about listening without judgement also comes into play.

And the “being with” can’t be overdone.

When I’m coaching someone, the call ends and I typically don’t see them again until the next call

Limiting just how much time you spend accompanying them can be tough.



There’s a Huge Step Along the Way

Last week’s post ended with me teasing this week’s topic, so if you’ve been waiting, thanks for your patience. (Insert Wink Emoji here!)

See Education as a Prescription for Discomfort

We were looking at how important it is to educate everyone in a family to a certain level of common understanding, so that they could then come to important agreements on a fully informed basis.

All that is of course still true; AND it’s almost always easier said than done.

When family members need to come to agreement on important matters, there’s often a history of emotions that gets stirred up that makes it a bigger challenge than it would be in a similar situation involving unrelated parties.

Outside professionals who only occasionally deal with families are often surprised by this, and can become disappointed and disillusioned when they learn that seemingly simple decisions on the surface turn out to be anything but.

Acceptance: Coming to Terms with a Reality

So while increasing clarity to promote better understanding is a necessary precondition to coming to agreement, it’s usually insufficient.

More often than not, at least one family member will need to come to terms with some reality for the first time, and learn to accept it.

For example, agreeing that one of my siblings will now be in charge of something, may require me to accept the fact that I have not been chosen for this role.

This may be very difficult for me to accept, and can take time to sink in, for me to consent to.

And the more anyone tries to rush me to agree to it, the more I may actually dig in my heels to try to defend my position.

Revisiting Consent and Consensus

This brings up another key element that families must deal with when trying to establish important parts of their governance.

Governance is a word that makes a lot of sense in this context, even though most people (myself included) don’t love the word and the connotations it sometimes has.

For me it’s mostly about communication and decision-making, and that’s exactly what we’re talking about here, i.e. the challenges families face in making decisions and coming to agreement.

My suggestion for families usually involves concentrating on making most of their decisions by consensus.

I wrote a couple of posts about this in 2016, after having an A-Ha moment when I finally realized that the word consent is at the root of consensus.

See Putting the Consent into Consensus Part I of II and Part II of II

You Don’t Need to Love Every Part of It

Most of the decisions that families need to make are something far from being crucial to survival.

One of the reasons I encourage families to begin working on governance early on is that they can practice working together and coming to agreement on matters of lesser importance.

That gives them opportunities to practice how they need to be when they come together, and get used to giving their consent to decisions that they may not love entirely, but can certainly still live with.

What’s Good for ME, What’s Good for WE

It’s important to have all family members involved in making decisions that will affect their future, and too many families avoid that because they worry about any disagreements that may arise in the process.

Groups of people can learn to make collegial decisions for their own good, but this requires leaving your selfishness at the door.

As workplaces and organisations progress in society, it feels like more of this is happening, and that’s a good thing.

For families, there’s another layer of possible complications present, thanks to the decades of history they have together, where not all of it has typically been perfectly rosy for all family members.

Playing to Win as a Family & Kissing Your Sister 

All of this falls under the heading of learning to play to win as a family, as opposed to winning for myself.

I wrote about this four years ago in Kissing your Sister – Playing for a Tie in the FamBiz.

The good news is that once you have established the type of culture in a family where the needs of the family come before anyone’s individual needs, it gets easier.

Education and clarity lead to understanding, and then giving everyone the time to accept whatever reality the family faces, are all important.

If you try to rush through acceptance to get straight to agreement, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

A Convoluted but Useful Conclusion

Last week we looked at the various types of skill sets that people who work with families might need in order to provide them with the whole breadth of service they require.

See Liberal Arts Vs. STEM Skills to Serve Families

As I openly shared then, that idea and concept came to me from a colleague during a Zoom call with peers, which is nothing new.

We ended that post with another peer-inspired idea, that of thinking of this as a “left brain / right brain” dichotomy.

That one came from a different call, one that I’m part of locally in Montreal, that meets in French.

We’ll get to yet another bilingualism-inspired post soon enough, don’t worry.

Although this week’s idea is a bit convoluted, that has nothing to do with language, and more to do with the way my brain is wired.

You Can’t Have Too Much Education

During that call with my francophone colleagues, one of our leaders made the point that education is always her first “go to” when beginning to work with any family.

Heads were nodding across the screen at this, as it’s difficult to argue against.

But let’s look at that a bit longer here, to consider the context she was speaking about.

When a practitioner enters a family system as an outsider, we need to quickly try to establish some common ground on which we can then firmly stand.

We want to show that we are knowledgeable and trustworthy of course, but also able to communicate with all members of the family.

Most families suffer from a serious case of “information asymmetry”, as I like to call it.

That’s just a fancy phrase to say that some family members typically know everything about what the family owns and manages, while others are very much in the dark.

Bringing everyone up to the same level on some subject(s) with some education is an important first step for all of these reasons.

Assessing a Family’s Learning Orientation

Some part of the general agreement of our group around education naturally stems from the fact that when we get to work with a family that has an appetite for learning and education, such mandates are typically much more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Working with people who are “learners”, as opposed to “learned”, is very different, as anyone who has a “know-it-all” in their midst will readily appreciate.

When we start with any education content, we can begin to assess how hungry the family members are to learn together

Why Were We Called In?

Later on during this same call, a colleague shared his view that learning usually only happens in response to some level of discomfort.

Hmmmm; I needed to think about that one a bit.

Is discomfort a necessary pre-condition to my being able to learn? I suppose that it will increase my motivation, assuming that I am trying to learn how to ease my discomfort in some way.

Certainly the fact that a family has invited us in as an outsider to be a resource for them, there was some discomfort somewhere in the system that prompted that reach-out.

So somebody was suffering from some discomfort somewhere.

Now to the Prescription Angle

Somewhere along the way during the 2-hours we spent together, the idea formed in my head that education is always useful, and if it is to try to settle some discomfort, we could think of it as a prescription.

If education is a go-to solution to instigate some learning, and learning is a solution for discomfort, then this makes sense.

Like I said, it feels a bit convoluted and yet it might be useful, if it can remind us of these two ideas in our work.

Clarity Is More Comfortable Than Confusion

Education is almost always used with families in order to increase clarity, and to find places where every family member better understands what the family owns and how they are planning to transition that to the next generation of the family.

Educating for more clarity is always useful, because increasing clarity enables better understanding.

Ideally we want to get to the stage where everyone agrees with whatever plans are put into place, and if the family members aren’t able to comprehend the plans, it is difficult for them to agree to them in an informed way.

We’ll pick up this idea again next week, please come back!